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    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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Review of A MIGHTY HEART

Jolie Mighty HeartAngelina Jolie is so famous her public persona threatens to eclipse any film in which she appears. So it isn’t surprising that the buzz surrounding A Mighty Heart isn’t about its story, the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), or on Mariane Pearl (Jolie), Daniel’s widow and author of the book on which the film is based.

The big question seems to be whether Jolie will win an Oscar for playing Mariane. That’s a shame, because Jolie’s offscreen life might drive people away from one of the year’s best films.

Besides, this is not Angelina’s next star vehicle.  While we never lose sight of Mariane’s personal tragedy, A Mighty Heart’s ensemble cast brilliantly captures the anxiety, hope, and inevitable agony of the investigation into Pearl’s abduction.

Director Michael Winterbottom began his career making documentaries, and it shows in the film’s journalistic style. One can’t help but compare it to Italian Neorealists like Roberto Rossellini or Vittorio De Sica. Even during the personal, heart-wrenching moments, the camera allows us to merely observe the events as if we were present. There is no swelling music or other tricks to tug at our hearts.

Winterbottom and crew clearly understood that this story didn’t require embellishment. The intrigue and tragedy are real, and to treat it as melodrama would cheapen the whole affair.

Instead, they strive for realism and accuracy. They shot in Pakistan and employed many non-professional actors, sometimes literally pulling people off the street to appear in small roles. They even shot in the exact locations in Karachi where Pearl was abducted. All of this was incredibly risky, but ultimately imbues the film with a stunning authenticity.

So, will Angelina win an Oscar? If she does, it will be because of her restraint and accurate mimicry rather than any gymnastic acting. The world has seen and heard the real Mariane, and Jolie replicates her speech and gestures flawlessly.

Jolie also has a veneer she can put up that keeps others at a distance, a trait she shares with Mariane. When Mariane was interviewed during the real ordeal, many had the indecency to question her sincerity simply because she didn’t play the weeping widow. What sometimes comes off as coldness in Jolie works to her benefit as she recreates those public appearances. The image we get of Mariane is of a strong woman enduring devastating sorrow who always places the well-being of others above her own.

Irfan KahnStill, the fame does intervene. Despite her outstanding performance, it’s difficult to forget it’s Angelina. No matter, because the entire supporting cast is exceptional, especially Futterman and Irfan Khan, who plays Captain, head of Pakistani counter-terrorism.

Captain sincerely wants to save Pearl’s life and is affected deeply when he fails to do so. Yet, his investigative unit is infamous for its cruel tactics. So while the film criticizes the brutality of Pearl’s kidnappers, we also see one of the “good guys” torturing suspects. Captain is a complex and provocative figure, and Khan nearly steals the whole film.

A Mighty Heart grabs us from the first shot and tells its story with such urgency the credits seem to roll too soon. The film doesn’t attack political factions or issue oversimplified judgements. In the best of dramatic traditions, cast and crew transform tragedy into inspiration and leave us with the very clear message that violence cannot conquer the fearless.

Bottom Line: A gripping film that outshines its star

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