I really liked A Mighty Heart for what it was, but I sort of think what it was (and what I liked it for) was not the intent. It is a thrilling and engrossing procedural but comes off strangely clinical. For a movie that was meant to showcase Angelina Jolie there’s a surprising lack of emotion.

The story of reporter Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and execution in Karachi, Pakistan is well known by now. His widow, Mariane, has become an international symbol of love, strength, and tolerance. The film spends little time setting up the relationship; they are saying their final goodbye about 5 minutes in. Much of their love is shown through flashbacks. If there’s one thing that ruins more movies for me than anything else it’s unbelievable relationships. This film goes about halfway in that their relationship is totally believable, but not very well founded so that we don’t have much of an emotional connection to it.

Much of the film follows the hunt for Danny: tracking down leads, tracing IP addresses, interrogating suspects, etc… All this is very good. Despite knowing how the search would end up I was completely engrossed. Mariane plays a surprisingly small role in the middle third of the film.

The neat thing about A Mighty Heart is that it doesn’t feel like a fictional movie. The characters don’t deliver lines like movie characters usually do: they occasionally stumble on their words, they interrupt each other, they don’t speak dramatically. The camera moves through the scene in such a way the we feel like we’re inserted into the action and eavesdropping on real conversations. It very much has a documentary feel to it.

The supporting actors are all great: Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl, Irrfan Kahn as the Pakistani chief leading the investigation, Archie Panjabi as an Indian family friend supporting Mariane. But Jolie is getting all the attention and rightfully so. It’s not the powerhouse performance I expected, but she does own the screen while she’s on it. I don’t think she’s as good as those who appear to be this year’s top actress contenders but she would make an excellent nominee. The one knock I have is that I felt little emotional connection to Mariane and the film. Mariane’s anguish at the end to the news that we all know is coming is touching but still remains distant. That’s the drawback of having so much police work in the middle of the film.

(Another problem I have is that the title is terrible. A Mighty Heart? Really? Sounds like a Lifetime movie.)

If you want to be smacked over the head by a whole lot of ignorance, check out the controversy surrounding Jolie’s selection for the role. Apparently a white woman playing a woman who is 1/4 black is tantamount to performing in blackface.

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