The agreeably shocking thing about Michael Winterbottom‘s A Mighty Heart, which had its first-time-anywhere press screening this morning inside the Grand Palais, is that it’s not a Michael Winterbottom film. Not, I mean to say, a film that has seemingly emerged from the palette and the sensibility of the director of The Road to Guantan- amo, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, 9 Songs, Code 46 and 24 Hour Party People…all but one of which I had problems with to varying degrees.

Instead, A Mighty Heart is a Michael Mann film — a tight, absorbing, sharply assembled investigative procedural. It summons memories of the pacing, the underplayed performances and the sense of swiss-watch exactitude that have come to be associated with Mann’s films. I can’t recall another film in which a name-brand director has so totally abandoned a signature style (wait…does Winterbottom have one?) and just become, in a sense, “someone else.”
A Mighty Heart is about the kidnapping and murder ofWall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), as experienced by his distraught widow Mariane Pearl (Angelina Jolie). It’s handsomely shot (especially surprising given the generally meh photography in Winterbottom’s previous films), intricate and yet surprisingly easy to keep track of, and very deftly edited.
And in it, Jolie has given a completely satisfying and quite admirable performance which feels to me like the best thing she’s ever done. More mature and less showy than her nutter turn in Girl Interrupted (for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. The role of Mariane Pearl isn’t exactly a showboat thing (although there’s a very strong grief-venting scene in the third act that everyone will remember). It’s not about histrionics as much as just getting it right and staying with the truth of it — but Jolie’s carefully measured emoting plus her aural and physical resemblances to the Real McCoy make this performance a fairly safe bet for a Best Actress Oscar campaign later this year.

There’s a lot more to discuss here, but I have to get to the longer version of Quentin Tarantino‘s Death Proof, which starts in less than 40 minutes. I’ll try and complete this later tonight, or certainly by tomorrow morning.