Jolie’s a Pearl

Posted on 21 Jun 2007 at 5:41pm
By Steve Warren Contributing Film Critic

Hey, Meryl, you’ve got competition. Angelina turns in a mighty performance



MOTHER COURAGE: Six months pregnant, Mariane (Jolie) keeps vigil for her abducted husband, Danny Pearl.

A MIGHTY HEART

B

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Irrfan Khan and Alyy Khan
Opens: June 22 in wide release.
1 hr. 43 min. R

“A Mighty Heart” has a couple of things working against it, but a lot more in its favor. The negatives: If you’ve seen “Missing” and “Harrison’s Flowers,” you’ve seen this movie before; and with authorized retellings of recent history, certain people are usually portrayed as too saintly to be believed.

Angelina Jolie makes you believe Mariane Pearl, the French journalist whose husband is kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, on Jan. 23, 2002. Daniel (Dan Futterman), a bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, goes out to interview the elusive Sheikh Gilani and never returns.

Apart from brief flashbacks to happier times, the film’s central portion takes place during the month Mariane waits for news of her husband. She’s six months pregnant, and the house the Pearls shared with Indian journalist Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi) becomes command central for a dizzying array of investigators from Pakistan and the U.S. (including an officious dyke from the FBI, played by out actress Jillian Armenante).

The movie is mostly played as a thriller. Despite a board on which the ever-changing list of suspects and witnesses are kept track of, there’s no way for a casual viewer to follow who’s who and in most cases there’s no need. An exception is the dogged Captain Habib (Irrfan Khan) of the CID, typical of Pakistani officialdom in trying to keep the work of terrorists from tarnishing the whole country. The Interior Minister blames Indians for trying to embarrass Pakistan.

Rumors swirl, fueled by various groups claiming responsibility for the kidnapping. Because Danny is a journalist, he’s presumed to be a spy for the CIA; because he’s Jewish, a spy for the Mossad.

The first ultimatum claims he’s being held in “inhumane conditions” in return for the similar treatment of U.S. prisoners at Guantanamo (addressed by director Michael Winterbottom in last year’s “Road to Guantanamo”).

Working from a script by John Orloff, Winterbottom maintains suspense, even though the outcome was widely reported and the film is based on Mariane’s memoir “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl.” (Talk about a spoiler!)

Because of the Guantanamo connection, the versatile director comes closer than he ever has to repeating himself. But a bigger budget lets him show his ability like never before, filling frames with exquisite detail that should reward repeat viewings. The result could earn him his first Oscar nomination, though not the first he’s deserved. Editor Peter Christelis also merits recognition.

Jolie could be a long shot for honors, too. The character as written is low-key, very contained at almost all times. When she has her big breakdown, she excuses herself and goes to another room to do it. It should be noted that Jolie maintains her accent under difficult circumstances, when everyone around her is speaking in other accents. Meryl Streep, watch your back.

Mariane is the kind of person I’d like to think I would be under similar circumstances, harboring no hatred for any nationality or religion for what happened to her husband. Her story doesn’t make a good excuse for a war, but it’s a great excuse for a movie.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 22, 2007.

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