"A Mighty Heart," Angelina Jolie's film about the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, had its first screening Monday morning at the Cannes Film Festival.
Simply put, the Michael Winterbottom film is an exceptional piece of work, deeply affecting and filmmaking of the highest order.
In purely Hollywood terms, the film is a certain Oscar nominee. Everyone involved in "A Mighty Heart" — from Winterbottom to Jolie as Pearl's widow, Mariane, to Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl — can be proud of a job very well done.
Based on the book by Mariane Pearl, the film follows the pregnant Mariane as she searches for her husband following his disappearance in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. At the time, Daniel Pearl was writing a story about shoe bomber Richard Reid.
Winterbottom's cinema verité-style only adds to the immediacy of the Pearl tragedy. This director has done a remarkable job.
And it’s not just Jolie and Futterman who shine. The entire supporting cast including Irfan Khan, who has already had a hit this year with "The Namesake," and the always reliable Will Patton as a CIA agent, makes the back-stories of the film eminently watchable, too.
But ultimately it’s Winterbottom’s achievement with screenwriter John Orloff (“Band of Brothers”) in making “Mighty Heart” an ensemble piece.
Jolie, who’s probably the hottest celebrity right now and covered by every tabloid in the world, could easily have become outsized in a story with many elements. Instead, she is quite tempered here, and becomes a team player whether she likes it or not.
It’s easy to forget what a fine actress she can be. But her understanding of Mariane Pearl is unusually touching. For most of the movie, Mariane seems a little cool, distant and brittle as she absorbs the news that her husband has been kidnapped.
Jolie, however, finally shows the human side of this strong woman when she learns that her husband is actually dead. She lets loose with shrieks of anguish that are all too real. They are almost like animal cries, and I guarantee you, audiences will be pulling out the Kleenex at this moment.
Winterbottom also punctuates the film with lots of jump-cutting, nonlinear plotting and flashback, all of which help add to the tension. He and Orloff flesh out Daniel Pearl, too, a hard task since he could have vanished after the kidnapping. But working with Futterman they create a very real man who met a tragic and untimely death.
And what a strange press conference at Cannes Monday after the first screening of "A Mighty Heart." How things have changed! There was more interest in Brangelina’s celebrity life than in the Pearl tragedy or the politics that instigated it.
I could only wonder what Mariane Pearl, who was there on the dais with the cast, producers and director, thought of this episode. It was embarrassing. One woman even managed to jump on the stage at the end and kiss Brad Pitt. Oy vey!
By now you may have heard about the remarkable new film by Joel and Ethan Coen based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy. “No Country for Old Men” premiered here on Friday night to standing ovations and much cheering. The Miramax/Paramount Vantage release quickly became a hot topic everywhere.
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem, “No Country” is a meditation on violence that harkens back to the Coens’ best work in “Fargo” and “Blood Simple.”
The first shot is of a police car with its siren lit up, parked in a desolate area where a violent crime has just been discovered. I’d like to say it’s a nod to “Fargo,” but Ethan Coen assured me later it was just a coincidence. But you know what Freud said about that.
At a swanky dinner on Saturday night at one of the beach clubs on the Croisette, the studios involved gave the Coens a nice toast. The whole cast was there, but Joel Coen’s famous wife, Frances McDormand, was absent, because she’s filming a movie in Britain.
The glamour quotient had to be filled by Diane Lane, who’s married to Josh Brolin, and Andie MacDowell, who’s been in town doing publicity for L’Oreal and hunting down projects with her partner, the beloved Davien Littlefield.
But even with all that, the dinner’s attraction was Javier Bardem. In "Country" he plays a very bad guy, a slithery villain of the Texas prairie who murders his many victims with a cattle killing device. It looks like an oxygen tank connected to a tire inflator, and produces a large hole in the heads of its customers. It’s very inventive to say the least.
Bardem gained some weight for the role, grew his short hair out into a mop and sports a crazed look that actually resembles Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s quite memorable.
No matter how scary he was in the film: women at the party were jockeying to meet Bardem all night, some even willing to part with their partners.
When I mentioned this to one studio exec, he replied: “I don’t blame them.” But that’s another story, as they say.
Filmmaker Michael Moore's brilliant and uplifting new documentary, "Sicko," deals with the failings of the U.S. health care system, both real and perceived. But this time around, the controversial documentarian seems to be letting the subject matter do the talking, and in the process shows a new maturity.
Unlike many of his previous films ("Roger and Me," "Bowling for Columbine," "Fahrenheit 9/11"), "Sicko" works because in this one there are no confrontations. Moore smartly lets very articulate average Americans tell their personal horror stories at the hands of insurance companies. The film never talks down or baits the audience.
"This film is a call to action," Moore said at a press conference on Saturday. "It's also not a partisan film."
Indeed, in "Sicko," Moore criticizes Democrats and Republicans for their inaction and in some cases their willingness to be bribed by pharmaceutical companies and insurance carriers.
In a key moment in the film, Moore takes a group of patients by boat to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba because of its outstanding medical care. When they can't get into the U.S. naval base, Moore proceeds on to Havana, where the patients are treated well and cheaply.
This has caused a great deal of controversy, with the federal government launching an investigation into the trip, which officials say was in violation of the trade and commerce embargo against the Communist country.
"This administration flaunts the law, flaunts the Constitution," Moore said at the press conference, explaining the flap over the trip to Cuba.
Moore claims the U.S. government says his Cuban footage may be illegal. He also said he made a second master copy of "Sicko" and had it shipped it to France immediately just in case of potential government issues.