DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: A MIGHTY HEART

Monday, 25 June 2007


A Mighty Heart (2007) dir. Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman


I hope people can look past the super-celebrity aspect of Angelina Jolie and producer Brad Pitt and watch “A Mighty Heart” with fresh eyes. The making of the film and the movements of Jolie and Pitt’s children received as much press as its release. Backlash against Jolie and Pitt’s large presence in India (Jolie’s bodyguards were arrested for scuffling with paparazzi) were expounded and made for celebrity gossip fodder. So let’s review the film, not the couple.

“A Mighty Heart,” is a terrific film about the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The film tells the story from the point of view of his dedicated and composed wife, Marianne (Jolie) who patiently manages to navigate through the false rumours, politicking, and worldwide press fervour surrounding the case and focus on finding Daniel. Dan Futterman is well cast as Daniel whom we get to know in the first act of the film and periodically in flashback throughout. He is a soft-spoken dedicated journalist and husband. The Pearls travel to Pakistan the day after Sept 11 to report on the activities of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. When he gets a chance to interview Sheikh Gilani, a notorious terrorist, he knows he’s entering dangerous territory. Everyone Pearl talks to warms him but Pearl is ambitious and puts the story ahead of his safety. The night Pearl is to meet Galani, he disappears, never to return home.

When the Pakistani police become involved a complex web of terrorist connections slowly unravels. Like “All the President’s Men” one suspect leads to another, and another and another etc etc. It's so complex Mariane and her friend Asra (Archie Panjabi) have to use a whiteboard to keep track of everything. We aren’t meant to follow or understand the trail, only to know that Pearl’s kidnapping was not random but a targeted and premeditated act of terrorism involving a large network of people.

The film is directed by the multitalented Michael Winterbottom, a British filmmaker, who can work in any genre, but who recently has developed a naturalistic style of on-the-fly street filmmaking. Winterbottom and cinematographer Marcel Zyskind shoot the film with local non-actors, in authentic locations with documentary-like believability. Watch, “24 Hour Party People”, “In this World”, and “Nine Songs” to see the evolution of this style. The result is a film with 100% authenticity.

The film is edited with great pace. The lead-up up to Pearl’s kidnapping is told with a fractured non-linear montage technique. Winterbottom enters conversations already in progress and exits before they are finished. At times this can be frustrating, especially when a new character is introduced but whom we don’t get to know until many scenes later. For example when first see Will Patton, who plays an American authority, we only get a few lines out of him before Winterbottom cuts away. It’s a shame because Patton is a good actor and I wanted to hear what he had to say. So this style can be obtrusive to the story, but since this is Mariane’s point of view I guess the motivation was to mimic the chaos of the event.

Winterbottom avoids all possible Hollywood traps, unlike, say, Ed (“Blood Diamond”) Zwick who would have turned this story into an action film. It would have been easy to inject internal conflict into the film by portraying the Pakistani police as backwards and unaccommodating to the Americans, instead the captain of the Pakistani counterterrorism unit who leads the investigation is as smart, dedicated and unwavering in his search as any of the Americans. Winterbottom is also able to create tension and suspense without resorting to guns, overt violence or action scenes. There’s a couple of moments of gunfire, but it’s not embellished.

Much of the credit of the film should go to Brad Pitt, who had the courage to put the film into Winterbottom’s hands as opposed to someone like Ed Zwick’s. As a result “A Mighty Heart” may be a less accessible film, but it’s been told the best way possible, by preserving the integrity of Daniel and Mariane Pearl and all those involved in bringing the terrorists to justice. Enjoy.


mouton28 said...

Great review! I do have a love hate relationship with Winterbottom. His style is certainly getting tighter with time and he is a definite talent.

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