"Heart" attack

Director Michael Winterbottom and crew take aim at Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart
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FILM Angelina Jolie in blackface and a decent film? Both seem remarkable when one considers the cinematic caca generated by the Tomb Raider franchise star since her Oscar win for Girl, Interrupted (1999).

Decidedly weightier and more ambitious than the screwball Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), A Mighty Heart finds Jolie coated with a deep tan and kitted out in a faux pregnant belly as Marianne Pearl in an adaptation of the journalist's 2003 best-selling account of the kidnapping and demise of her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

The part-French Jolie may be a more suitable choice than the last Marianne rumored to be slated for the project, coproducer Brad Pitt's previous main squeeze, Jennifer Aniston, but surely there was a more apropos physical fit for the pixieish, caramel-skinned Pearl than the opulently Sophia Loren–like Jolie?

"I think that's rubbish. It's so superficial," A Mighty Heart director Michael Winterbottom says, talking a mile a minute in a blurry, nasal Lancashire accent and alternately basking in and ducking the uncharacteristically bright San Francisco summer sun in the Ritz-Carlton courtyard. "The first time I met Angelina was with Marianne, and in fact they knew each other already and they trusted each other already. They're kind of similar in lots of ways and talked about the story in similar ways. And that's what's important, really — to have someone actually know the person they're playing, especially with a story that's as sensitive as this."

In many ways Winterbottom was perfectly cast as the director for A Mighty Heart. He's an ex-documentarian noted for striking a balance between intimate love stories (2004's 9 Songs, 2003's Code 46); tales like his Manchester music scene snapshot, 24 Hour Party People (2002), that revolve around the pleasure principle; politicized narratives firmly embedded in a labyrinthine geopolitical landscape (2006's The Road to Guantánamo, 2002's In This World, 1997's Welcome to Sarajevo); and literary adaptations (2006's Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, 1996's Jude).

"They're also films about individuals as well," Winterbottom counters. And at times A Mighty Heart boils down uneasily as a Möbius strip of a meta–murder mystery — about the media, as documented by the media, intercut with shots of entangled Karachi phone and cable lines even as Brangelina paparazzi attempted to capture the couple's every move and at least one scandal spun off the 2006 shoot (Mumbai residents charged the couple's bodyguards with racism during filming at a school).

A Mighty Heart also reads somewhat like the flip side of Winterbottom's previous release, The Road to Guantánamo, which blended dramatizations and documentarylike interviews with three British Muslims, a.k.a. the Tipton Three, who were held at Guantánamo Bay for two years before they were released without having been charged.

"In a way I think both stories are about people who are kind of victims of the extreme violence on both sides," the filmmaker says, describing both as post–Sept. 11 stories. "I think there are groups on both sides who want the violence to escalate."

Which gives Winterbottom impetus to carry on with his political-as-personal narratives, turning to the next in a series of Steve Coogan films, an adaptation of former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray's memoir Murder in Samarkand.

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