A Mighty Heart (2007) dir. Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Will Patten, Archie Panjabi
Rewatching "A Mighty Heart" brought back memories of “The Kingdom,” Peter Berg’s immature take on Americans/Islamic relations. The comparison only makes “A Mighty Heart” that much stronger – a more accurate and ultimately compelling version of essentially the same issues and themes.
In 2001, Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by Muslim extremists in Pakistan. The film is told from the point of view of Mariane (Angelina Jolie) who patiently manages to navigate through the false rumours, politicking, and worldwide press fervour surrounding the case and focuses 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 flashbacks throughout. Prior to his capture, 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 Daniel 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, which leads to another etc etc. The names are so hard to keep track of 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.
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, an aesthetic with much common with Danny Boyle's. 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 “Road to Guantanamo” 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 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 we 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 such 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.
Unlike, Peter Berg, who turned his story into kill-at-all-costs action film, Winterbottom avoids all possible Hollywood traps. 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 producer Brad Pitt, who had the courage to put the film into Winterbottom’s hands as opposed to someone like Peter Berg’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.
"A MIghty Heart" is now available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment