By Benjamin Svetkey
Updated June 20, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Peter Mountain

For all the media scrutiny it received, nobody seemed to notice the one truly newsworthy thing about Jolie’s trip last fall to Pune — one of the most ancient cities in India, settled on a remote edge of the Western Ghats mountain range in the Maharashtra state some eons ago: the reason she was there in the first place. Jolie spent five weeks in Pune shooting her latest movie, A Mighty Heart, to tackle her most challenging role in her most serious film since winning that Oscar seven years ago for Girl, Interrupted. In A Mighty Heart, she stars as Mariane Pearl, widow of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter whose 2002 kidnapping in Pakistan — and subsequent beheading, videotaped and uploaded to the Internet — still ranks as one of the most horrific and tragic episodes in the short, bloody history of modern-day terrorism. Dan Futterman (who got an Oscar nom for writing Capote) has a delicate part in the film as well, playing Daniel in flashbacks; Will Patton portrays the American security officer who teaches Mariane to detangle Pakistan red tape; London actress Archie Panjabi is the Pearls’ closest friend in Karachi; and Bollywood star Irrfan Khan is ”Captain,” the soft-spoken secret policeman who ends up Mariane’s ally.

But, of course, it’s Mariane’s story, based on her 2003 best-seller about her husband’s abduction. The hellish details she lays out in her book about those first few weeks in Karachi after the kidnapping — her frantic phone calls to the American consulate, her slogs through Middle Eastern bureaucracy, the slow piecing-together of what had happened to Daniel — will constitute the bulk of what’s on the screen. ”The story unfolds like a mystery,” Jolie says. ”You’ve got people collecting clues and trying to solve what happened. But it’s also very real and personal. We didn’t want it to be too melodramatic or too polished. We didn’t want it to be a typical movie.”

Which is how Michael Winterbottom — the maverick Brit who built his career by thumbing his nose at Hollywood studios and stars — ended up directing the hottest film actress on the planet in a major summer movie that was bought and paid for by a little company called Paramount. Though he seems a counterintuitive choice, the truth is Winterbottom may be perfect for the job, given his familiarity with the geographic and political terrain (his last film, The Road to Guantánamo, shot in Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, also dealt with victims in the war on terror) and experience with the vérité-style camera work needed to give the film that gritty look Jolie wanted. ”It just seemed too good an opportunity not to do it,” the director says. ”I mean, it was Brad and Angelina asking. That’s a very nice position to be in, you know?”

This is an excerpt of the full preview of A Mighty Heart from the EW Summer Movie Preview issue. Click here to read the complete article.