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Somewhere amidst the suffocating labyrinth of back roads, beggars, and smoggy taxis in Karachi, Pakistan, there are terrorists holding an innocent American hostage. A team of multi-cultural investigators weave their way through shady informants, political corruption and dead-end leads in search of the truth, inspired by the determination of the missing journalist's beautiful pregnant wife. Men are ruthlessly interrogated, tears are shed and people murdered. Don't let the documentary-style or "independent" tags fool you, A Mighty Heart is a fiercely entertaining Hollywood thriller through and through.
Produced by Brad Pitt and starring Angelina Jolie, Michael Winterbottom's film plays like an entire season of The Wire packed into two brisk hours of rising tension. As the story of Daniel Pearl's abduction unfolds, we are introduced to an array of compelling characters and side stories circulating the investigation. From Asra the sympathetic Indian journalist (Archie Punjabi) to a weasely potential terrorist accomplice named Masud (Daud Khan), these small performances color in the compelling environment that holds the film together. We are right there in the war room, pacing the hallway as the pieces of the puzzle come together.
Yet unlike your typical nail-bitter, we know exactly how this one ends from the very beginning. Winterbottom, rather than avoiding that potentially problematic fact, uses it to his narrative advantage. When Daniel kisses Marianne (Jolie) and rides off in a taxi to interview Sheikh Gilani, the camera lingers for a moment so we feel the finality of his goodbye. From then on we are anticipating the tragic news, expecting with dread (and fascination) to turn a corner and find Pearl's body. It's Jolie's bravura performance in the role of Marianne that draws us into emotion of the 5-week ordeal. Her anxiety and love is so convincing that - regardless of what we know - we want her to win.
Throughout the film we are shown a small Pakistani boy, a child of a house worker who lives with Asra, sharing a strange affinity with Marianne. He constantly reminds us of the other inevitability of Pearl's story - that of childbirth. In perhaps the most unforgettable scene of the film, Marianne screams hysterically upon hearing of her husband's death - each note of her pain piercing the empty air. Later those sounds are echoed while she gives birth to her first child, a symbol of hope emerging from great pain. Marianne prays that her husband's sacrifice was not in vein - that we might learn something from this tragedy. Yet it's her story, the resilience she shows in handling the fear the terrorists impose on her life, which provides the most moving lesson the film has to offer.
Winterbottom imbues his vision of Karachi with trademark realism, from local accents to goats in the polluted streets, but it's the emotional authenticity of his characters that defines the film. And while Jolie deserves her Oscar-buzz, Irfan Khan is her equal as the Captain of the Pakistani government's investigation. He moves with ease from calm briefings with Marianne to ferocious intensity in interrogating terror suspects, all while conveying a stoic pride in his country. More than anyone else in the film, the Captain understands what this investigation means for Pakistan, America and Marianne.
The friendship between the Captain and Marianne - a French journalist of Afro-Cuban and Dutch descent - encapsulates the surprisingly uncontroversial nature of the film. A rag-tag team from around the world comes together, putting aside their differences, in pursuit of a common good. It all sounds very Hollywood - but sometimes Hollywood actually gets things just right. SEE ALSO: www.amightyheartmovie.com
Imran Siddiquee is a freelance writer pursuing self-expression in all its forms. This includes the occasional contribution to LAS as well as writing blogs, essays, short stories, an unpublished novel and some screenplays. He also creates horribly amateur music with his brother Yusuf.
See other articles by Imran Siddiquee.
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