A heart-felt performance

A Mighty Heart; Starring: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi, Irrfan Khan, Will Patton, Denis O'Hare, Adnan Siddiqui; Dir: Michael Winterbottom; Cert:15; 1hr 43mTwo weeks after Atonement gave us the first Oscar-worthy film of the autumn season, Angelina Jolie delivers the first leading performance which should be guaranteed a nomination next February.

A Mighty Heart; Starring: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi, Irrfan Khan, Will Patton, Denis O'Hare, Adnan Siddiqui; Dir: Michael Winterbottom; Cert:15; 1hr 43m

Two weeks after Atonement gave us the first Oscar-worthy film of the autumn season, Angelina Jolie delivers the first leading performance which should be guaranteed a nomination next February. It's a stunning, sensitive portrayal from a much-maligned actress which deserves to be admired as much for its restraint as it is for its anguish.

British director Michael Winterbottom has fashioned a film which is resolutely unsentimental about the emotional trauma which surrounds kidnapping in the Middle East.

The film is based on the true story of the the kidnapping of the American journalist Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) in January 2002, and its dramatic aftermath. It tells of the efforts of his wife, French journalist Marianne Pearl (Angelina Jolie), to secure her husband's release.


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We get to see how the most careful journalist can be lured into a trap with the bait of a good story. Daniel Pearl was not a reckless adventurer and even consulted the US embassy and the local police in Karachi, Pakistan, before going to meet what he took to be an influential Muslim leader, Sheik Gilani. Gilani, it turned out, was just a rouse to get him into an area of town where he could be taken prisoner.

It's not an easy watch in places and certainly cannot be described as a feel-good date movie but for those wanting to see a film which has something to say about the world in which we live then it makes for compelling and satisfying viewing.

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It's a story which benefits from the unshowy performances. The power comes from the feeling of anger and the boiling emotions which are lurking just below the surface. Michael Winterbottom, meanwhile, makes a virtue of the tremendous restraint he shows with the photography and soundtrack.

Archie Panjabi, who we first saw in Bend It Like Beckham, is superb as Daniel's Indian colleague and local fixer Asra. It is she who lends Marianne much needed support when her home becomes the rescue operation nerve centre and is taken over by Pakistani police and FBI agents from the US Consulate.

Interestingly, Winterbottom and Irfan Khan manage to make the chief of police, usually a very matter-of-fact role, a carefully-constructed and very sympathetic character. You get the impression he was greatly embarrassed that Pearl had been taken in his town and would do anything to get him back.

But this is very much Angelina Jolie's movie. The story is told from her point of view and she is absorbed by the role. There's no big, Hollywood movie star on display here. Her French/English accent is beautifully pitched. It sounds exotic but without being so outrageous that it seems ridiculous.

It's a movie which, like United 93, takes an almost documentary approach in its cinematography giving the movie a sense of urgency as well as a feeling of truthfulness.

Winterbottom is not interested in making a thriller - we all know the outcome - but he is interested in digging beneath the surface of the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and exploring why the Muslim world is so determined to confront the West. He's also interested in stripping away the layers of Marianne's seemingly stoic exterior to reveal the real woman within.

Is she really that brave? She is really that driven? Is she really that forgiving? You'll have to watch the movie to find out but it is a startling performance from Angelina Jolie and it will take a lot for someone to whip away a second Oscar from under the actress's nose.

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