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Jolie's Best Film To Date,
This review is from: A Mighty Heart [DVD] (DVD)
Since the release of `24 hour Party People' back in 2002, Michael Winterbottom has firmly established himself as one of contemporary cinema's most interesting directors. His knack for experimenting with narrative structure and exposition have become distinguishing features of his work, with `24 Hour Party People' and 2006's `A Cock and Bull Story' each receiving great critical acclaim for their unique, innovative approach. Both of these films, however, were low budget affairs, built primarily around a cast of mostly British actors from television or other low budget releases.
For this reason, it may have come as a surprise to many when it was announced that Winterbottom would be directing Angelina Jolie in 2007's `A Mighty Heart'. The coming together of a Hollywood A lister of Jolie's stature, with the low-key, independent style of Winterbottom would surely be destined to fail. Thankfully, any doubts there may have been regarding such a pairing are immediately shattered, in what must surely be considered career bests for both Winterbottom and Jolie. Telling the tragic story of the kidnap and murder of American journalist Danny Pearl at the hand of a group of terrorists in Pakistan, `A Mighty Heart' details the investigation and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to rescue Danny from his captors.
As opposed to Winterbottom's previous work, the film's narrative structure is played out in a linear fashion, possessing a documentary style that serves to make the unfolding tragedy feel all the more real. In many ways `A Mighty Heart' treads a very thin line to absolute perfection, never once crossing over into melodrama or running into the political pitfalls that could so easily tarnish a film of its kind. An achievement clearly beyond the reach of so many post 9/11 political films. Take for example Gavin Hood's abysmal `Rendition' (2007), a film which took potentially interesting subject matter, only to set about pissing all over it with a stream of contrived, insincere nonsense and dumbed-down, Hollywood plot devices, with no concern for developing its central characters. It is precisely here that `A Mighty Heart' succeeds, making no attempt at preaching to its audience and focussing solely on the relationships between its key characters as they each experience the series of appalling events.
Through her portrayal of Mariane Pearl, Danny's wife, Jolie really demonstrates her ability as one of Hollywood's finest talents, giving an astonishingly powerful performance. Throughout the film, as the police are conducting their search for her kidnapped husband, Jolie's depiction of Mariane is both dignified and graceful, beautifully emphasising the remarkable strength of the real-life Mariane Pearl. By never allowing her performance to veer into melodrama during the search for Danny, the scene in which she is finally told of his death is made all the more harrowing and painful to watch, as we see her finally crumble under the weight of the ordeal she has been through, in a sequence that is both unremitting and overwhelming in its realism. What makes this scene particularly heart-wrenching is the air of inevitability in the lead up towards it, as we know from the start that this moment will eventually arrive, making it doubly distressing when it does.
In a film that could so easily have resulted in leaving its audience with a sense of anger or hatred, the predominant tone of `A Mighty Heart' is one of hope. Through the terrible loss of her husband, Mariane appears unmoved and even more determined that racial and religious relations can only be resolved through maintaining a dialogue with one another, as opposed to violence and terror. A film of rare subtlety and unflinching tragedy, `A Mighty Heart' is a brilliantly understated accomplishment from Winterbottom, further cementing his status as one of Britain's most exciting and versatile directors.