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'A Mighty Heart'

The tragic story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, slain by terrorists in Pakistan, becomes a tense, involving police procedural in indie director Michael Winterbottom's first studio film. Having proved in such docudramas as Road to Guantanamo and Welcome to Sarajevo that he's good at organizing masses of information into a coherent storyline, Winterbottom builds the film slowly, heading down blind alleys and following false leads just as investigators did, all the while avoiding sensationalism. Figures weigh in on all sides — Pakistani bureaucrats, sheiks, CIA operatives, journalists — many with political agendas of their own, while Pearl's pregnant wife Mariane (an admirably subdued Angelina Jolie) tries to keep the focus on getting her husband back. Oddly, knowing how this harrowing story played out in real life doesn't diminish its power in the slightest.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.