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"A Mighty Heart"

Directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Written by John Orloff.  Based on the book by Mariane Pearl.
Starring Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi and Denis O'Hare.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  6/24/07


Sometimes, you get caught up in how good Angelina Jolie looks in all of the cover spreads she subjects herself to in the course of a year, because at the end of the day, she's a pretty good actress even if she normally picks bad projects...and, when she picks a good project like "A Mighty Heart", it all comes together for her because as a result, everyone wins.

Based on the roughly three-week stretch in 2002 in Pakistan when Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by terror cell soldiers, "A Mighty Heart" introduces us to Pearl (played humbly by Dan Futterman, a long-time TV actor who wrote the screenplay to 2005's "Capote") on the day that he is kidnapped prior to an interview with a high-level terrorist source in Karachi.  On this particular January day--naturally, the plan was to leave Pakistan with his wife altogether the very next day--Pearl takes a taxi out to meet his source but doesn't return; his wife, Mariane (Jolie), gets worried after Daniel doesn't call to check in.  By the next morning, Mariane has alerted authorities both foreign and domestic; as a result, the US embassy in Karachi sends over a rep (Will Patton) and a team of analysts, and the Pakistanis, led by a chief investigator (Irfan Khan) and another team of guards and analysts, all convene at the Pearl household to strategize on how to locate Daniel.  Mariane even enlists the help of journalists from WSJ, including the bureau chief, John Bussey (Denis O'Hare), as well as her Indian co-worker & friend Asra (Archie Punjabi), to try to locate her missing husband.  And, oh, by the way--Mariane is about six months pregnant with the couple's first child.

Michael Winterbottom ("24-Hour Party People") directed "A Mighty Heart", and the urgency of the film is maybe its best asset.  It always seems like something is happening; the movie is constantly moving, between pick-up shots of the greater Kirachi area--there's enough footage of street crowds, vendors, buses, individual citizens, and the like to fill up a 30-minute documentary--and the action in the makeshift war room at the Pearl house where the WSJ staff plus US and Pakistani officials try to sort through information on the Internet, videos, e-mails, phone records, you name it..."A Mighty Heart" feels not unlike a good episode of "24" (maybe season one, not those muddled seasons in the middle), where you've got operations people doing their thing, cops doing their thing, a little taste of interrogation torture for good measure, day-by-day updates, etc.

This makes the movie literally fly by, all the way to a finish that many of you already know about if you followed the story in the news; even though I knew what was going to happen, the movie doesn't lose anything by your having that knowledge.  The cast is excellent; again, Jolie is great in the lead, but the supporting cast--especially the cast of Pakistani officials, sources, and bit players--is what makes "A Mighty Heart" work, because Jolie is not in as much of the film as you would think.  The almost total lack of a soundtrack is also effective in terms of silences; profanities uttered by anyone frustrated by a turn in the hunt for Daniel are sometimes shocking, because everything else is so quiet.

I can't think of anything I didn't like about "A Mighty Heart", but I still didn't feel like the film was the cream of the crop--it's just very, very SOLID.  It tells an interesting story but at no point does it go above and beyond, at least to me.  I don't foresee any of the actors here getting nominated, the camerawork wasn't out of this world, the costumes were just there, you know, on and on and on.  But, this is still a film worth seeing; in-between blowout blockbusters is a film that is at times unsettling but ultimately a strong lesson in beliefs, journalism, terrorism and living a day in the life of a Pakistani citizen.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09