Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review - A Mighty Heart

A Mighty Heart - U.S., 2007

Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart has two strikes against it before the opening credits even roll. The first is that the film’s subject matter may be well known enough for many people to think they know the story already; the second is that the story does not have the typical Hollywood, “love-conquers-all” happy ending of other biopics such as A Beautiful Mind, and audiences know that beforehand. This may be why the film failed to garner much of an audience when it was released in theaters, and that’s a shame because a film like A Mighty Heart deserves an audience.

The film accomplishes several important things. First, it makes us understand who Daniel Pearl was in a way that the nightly news was never able to. We see him in personal moments laughing with his wife, Madeline, and reflecting on the wonders of impending fatherhood. Just how, he asks, can one love someone so much when that person hasn’t even been born? At other times, we see the caution with which he approached what he thought would be his final interview in Pakistan. In another moment, he responds to an interviewee’s statements involving Jews and September 11 conspiracy theories by openly stating the fact that he is Jewish. And we see his final glance at his wife through the window of a departing cab. He just couldn’t resist one last look at the woman he adored. Second, we see what may be one of the greatest portraits of courage at a time of adversity. As Mariane Pearl, Angelina Jolie is called upon to present two faces simultaneously. She must remain calm, focused, and upbeat in public, yet if you look closely, you can see the feelings and fears that she is trying so desperately to not give in to. The scene in which they finally do come out is simply unforgettable. Controversy aside, Jolie gives an incredible performance. Finally, we see the investigation into Daniel Pearl’s abduction and are deeply moved by everyone’s commitment and dedication to the case. One person in particular, the Pakistani captain, (Irrfan Khan) stands out. His determination is truly inspiring. In the film, a whiteboard is used to diagram all of the connections that have been made in the case. At times, the board is confusing; at other times, names and connections have to be erased. Later, the board becomes clear, and we know that the authorities are closer than they have ever been. We also know that they will not get much closer.

The film does not limit its focus to just Mariane’s perspective, and Pakistani officials are not all shown in a perfect light. Several scenes depict officials as apparently being more than willing to accuse India of being behind Pearl’s abduction. One of Mariane’s friends and fellow journalists Asra (Archie Panjabi) is talked about in the media as if she is a spy for India, and her address and phone number are even published in the newspaper. Another high ranking official refuses to order a massive manhunt for Pearl because he believes India is behind Pearl’s disappearance. However, in spite of the paranoia and conspiracies, more often than not, it is Pakistani officers that we see putting themselves in harm’s way time and time again out of dedication for their job, this case, and their country.

In a way, Daniel and Mariane Pearl’s tragic story is a lens through which we can see the experiences of other victims of terrorism. As Mariane herself puts it, from the time of her husband’s disappearance to that of his murder, ten Palestinians lost their lives under similar circumstance. Each one of these ten had a family, some had wives and children, and each of them is being mourned by loved ones. All too often these experiences are glossed over or reported collectively as statistics or figures. A Mighty Heart, much like Winterbottom’s earlier film In This World, gives viewers a first-hand account of what this experience is like – and it is an invaluable one. (on DVD)

3 and a half stars

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