Don’t let the existence of this blog entry fool you: I have astoundingly little to say about this film. It’s an average procedural in almost every regard that’s elevated by arguably the first great performance of Angelina Jolie’s career. Looking back, Jolie’s one of those performers who’s famous even though no one really likes any of her films (she’s essentially the female equivalent of Colin Ferrell), but this may be the first great movie star performance of her career, ironically so as director Michael Winterbottom is doing everything in his power to dispel the notion. Filmed in scatter-shot, handheld digital, Jolie is often placed at the edge of the frame, her face turned away from the camera as if she’s shielding herself from our rubber-necking. When Marianne Pearl retreats to her room to rage against Danny’s killing, her animalistic wails are a slap in the face to Oscar-clip ready emoting and the concept of tidy, cinematic mourning.
More than just crying on cue though Jolie nails the stubbornness and righteous indignation of the character that won’t allow her the time to pity herself. It’s hard to think of a character in this position coming across as unlikable but what the film does is refuse to place the character in the role of the victim until there’s absolutely nothing left to be done, allowing her to lash out and be human while living under a microscope. This is quietly strong work with the character serving as the taciturn center for the flurry of investigators and family friends that circle around and bounce off of her. The years spent working for the UN and cultivating Noah’s ark of third world children have served the actress well; her moral authority shines through in every scene.
The rest of the film could have benefited from Jolie’s conviction. Framed by Marianne’s narration (at one point even speaking to the fact that we’re watching a film) the film can’t help but come across as a movie of the week (even its very title smacks of Lifetime). Winterbottom borrows more than a few visual touchstones from Michael Mann, but lacks the latter’s propulsive style or poetic digressions. Furthermore, the entire film is dedicated to the idea of watching a woman confront impending doom, teasing out when the hammer above her head will finally fall. And unlike such films as United 93 or Letters from Iwo Jima where the filmmaker is given the opportunity to expand upon a confusing or alien period of our national history, there’s really little to tell beyond the dimming hope with each passing day of Pearl safe return. I’m sure this story needed to be told, I just don’t know that I needed to see it.