22 SEPTEMBER 2007, Page 48

Unanswered questions

Deborah Ross A Mighty Heart 15, Nationwide There are, as far as I know, only two Angelinas that are also famous brands. There is Angelina Ballerina, a mouse in a tutu, and there is Angelina Jolie, who is not a mouse in a tutu, probably because she just doesn't have the time. The Angelina who is not a mouse (in a tutu) has enough on her plate as it is. She is: tiptop A-list celebrity; luscious-lipped sexpot; humanitarian; UN ambassador; wife of Brad the Pitt and a mother so given to scooping up babies she makes Madonna look pathetically amateur. If I were you, and you have a baby, I'd either hide it or at least keep it under your coat when you go out. She may have her eye on it, for all you know. Scoop, and it's gone, until a few months later when it will reappear with a faux-Mohawk hairdo and a name from The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Anyway, I say all this because although Angelina Jolie was first an actress, it's now almost as if it is the very last thing she is. Still, I imagine that curiosity about her as someone who does have a job might draw what audience there is for a film like this, just as any film, no matter how uncomfortable, would draw an audience if, say, Princess Diana were playing the lead. This is not a film you might otherwise want to see which, of course, doesn't make it a bad film. But then it doesn't necessarily make it a good one, either.

A Mighty Heart is based on the memoirs written by Mariane Pearl, wife of Daniel Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. The film opens on the day of Daniel's disappearance, when he tells Mariane (Jolie) he might be late for dinner but never returns. It then intricately follows the period immediately afterwards as Mariane, heavily pregnant and confined to their home, waits for news of his release, unprepared for the horrors that are about to unfurl.

Mostly, the director, Michael Winterbottom, plays it as a police procedural, and off we go as leads and rumours, cellnet numbers and IP addresses, are tracked against the background of a fast and chaotic Karachi. It isn't easy to keep up and when Mariane pulls out a whiteboard and writes names of suspects, connecting them with circles and arrows as information comes in, we're aware it's as much for our benefit as hers. As a drama, it's meant to be a race against the clock, but as we know that the enterprise is doomed — Pearl will be murdered and a video of his decapitation will be uploaded to the Internet — it isn't. It's more a chronological countdown and there isn't, actually, much tension or excitement in that. OK, we knew, too, what the final, horrendous outcome would be in Paul Greengrass's United 93, but Greengrass still managed to provide both a dramatic arc and an emotional wallop in a way that Winterbottom obviously cannot. Where is the human drama in this film? Nowhere.

Actually, aside from Irrfan Khan (who is terrific as the captain of the Pakistan police) the Angelina who still isn't a mouse (in a tutu) may be the best thing in this. Although the part of Mariane seems to require she wear a wig that could also be an electrified Labradoodle, little else is overblown. Indeed, her performance as a woman determined to stay at the very centre of events is both nicely tucked in and convincing. There is no grandstanding and the scene right at the very end — where she falls on her knees and keens like a wolf howling at the moon — is made all the more powerful for that, and may even be the only powerful moment in the film Ultimately, I do think you have to wonder what the point of A Mighty Heart is, particularly as there are no fresh revelations or insights. What do we learn? Absolutely nothing. This is a film entirely about who, what, when and where — about circles and arrows on whiteboards — but never why.

Why did this happen? Was anything gained? Why Daniel? OK, he was Jewish, but so are lots of other people. What was Daniel like? Why does Mariane refuse to succumb to hate or fear? Was the marriage really as perfect as the flashbacks denote? This is a truthful account, I'm sure, but it never stirs. It recounts the party but brings nothing to it, which is A Mighty Shame, as much for Angelina Jolie as for anyone.