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Originally published June 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 26, 2007 at 2:19 PM

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Movie review

Sad story of journalist Daniel Pearl becomes one of strength, character and hope

"This film is for Adam," says a note at the end of Michael Winterbottom's wrenching "A Mighty Heart," about the 2002 kidnapping and murder...

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars


"A Mighty Heart," with Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Irrfan Khan, Denis O'Hare, Archie Panjabi, Will Patton, Adnan Siddiqui, Gary Wilmes. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, from a screenplay by John Orloff, based on the book "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl" by Mariane Pearl. 108 minutes. Rated R for language. Several theaters.

"This film is for Adam," says a note at the end of Michael Winterbottom's wrenching "A Mighty Heart," about the 2002 kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl at the hands of extremists in Pakistan. Adam is a character present throughout the film, though we do not see him until the end: He is the child carried by Daniel's wife, Mariane, who was six months pregnant at the time of the kidnapping. Now growing up with his mother in France, he will never see his father.

"A Mighty Heart" makes devastating viewing for any audience member, and it's unbearably sad to imagine Adam watching it one day. But the film, made with tense efficiency and palpable admiration, provides a fitting tribute to both of his parents. Daniel (played by Dan Futterman) emerges, mostly in flashbacks, as a kind man whose intelligence made his face sparkle, and a romantic optimist who told his wife on their wedding day, "We're going to create a beautiful world together." And Mariane (Angelina Jolie), on whom this movie's spotlight shines, has a strength a lion would envy. The mighty heart of the title is Daniel's (it was also the title of the book Mariane wrote about her husband), but it might just as well apply to the woman portrayed here.

Movie review 3.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"A Mighty Heart," with Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Irrfan Khan, Denis O'Hare, Archie Panjabi, Will Patton, Adnan Siddiqui, Gary Wilmes. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, from a screenplay by John Orloff, based on the book "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl" by Mariane Pearl.

108 minutes. Rated R for language.

Winterbottom, a British filmmaker whose versatile talent has recently encompassed both documentarylike realism (the tale of two immigrants' illegal journey in "In This World") and loopy literary satire (his irresistibly silly "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"), paces his film like a thriller, with Mariane emerging as a tragic heroine.

And Jolie gives one of her finest screen performances: You can see, beneath a composed exterior, how this woman is desperately trying to keep panic at bay. She's carefully calm most of the time, even during a television interview (after which some criticized her for not being sufficiently emotional, as if there were some rule book for the wives of kidnap victims). Alone, she rubs a finger along Daniel's picture on a computer screen, or quietly texts "I love you" to the cellphone he never answers.

The events of the movie unfold over the five long weeks between Daniel's kidnapping (he disappeared after setting up an interview with a mysterious source) and the confirmation of his death, shown in a video.

Winterbottom's handheld camera gets close in the actors' faces, giving the film a startling immediacy; you tense up along with the people on screen. He creates a cluttered and often frantic universe at the Karachi, Pakistan, house where the Pearls were staying with friends. The home, a pleasant refuge in the early scenes of the movie, becomes a fortress, with police and agents swarming like ants. Though we all know how this story ends, the suspense is almost painful: You want to push away the inevitable news and cover your ears against Mariane's anguished cry.

It's hard to imagine how "A Mighty Heart" will compete against this summer's popcorn fare; this sad story may be ill-suited for the lightness of the season. Though it's difficult to watch, the film is nonetheless inspiring: a portrait of strength and character, through unimaginable difficulty, responding not with hatred but with hope. It's a gift to Adam, and to all of us.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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