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A Mighty Heart

Beheadings in the Middle East

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“A Mighty Heart” begins with shots of the teeming streets of Karachi, Pakistan, a city with a population that seems jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder. Terrorists will emerge from this sea of humanity, kidnap the American journalist Daniel Pearl, and disappear. The film is about the desperate search for Pearl (Dan Futterman) before the release of the appalling video showing him being beheaded. It is told largely through the eyes of, and based on a memoir by, his widow, Mariane. 

We know how the story is going to end. The real drama is played out with the natures of the people looking for him. They include his pregnant wife, a French radio journalist who conceals her grief behind a cool and calculating facade to help her husband’s chances; their friend (Archie Panjabi), whose apartment becomes a nerve center; a Pakistan security official (Irrfan Khan), whose uncertain position reflects the way his country accepts American money and harbors terrorists; an American agent (Will Patton), whose skills are better adapted to American cities; and one of Pearl’s bosses at The Wall Street Journal (Denis O’Hare), who offers encouragement without much reason. 

Standing at the center of the story is Mariane Pearl, played by Angelina Jolie in a performance that is both physically and emotionally convincing. A few obvious makeup changes make her resemble the woman we saw so often on TV (curly hair, darker skin, the swelling belly), but Jolie’s performance depends above all on inner conviction; she reminds us, as we saw in some of her earlier films such as “Girl, Interrupted” (1999), that she is a skilled actress and not merely (however entertainingly) a tomb raider. 

Many thrillers depend on action, conflict, triumph and defeat. This one depends on impotence and frustration. The kidnappers cannot do more than snatch one unarmed man after he gets out of a taxi, and Pearl’s friends are lost in a maze of clues, lies, gossip and dead ends. The movie has been described as a “police procedural,” but I saw it more as a stalemate. 

Rated R for language.

Three and a half stars.

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