A Mighty Heart
Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi, Irrfan Khan , Will Patton, Denis O'Hare, Adnan Siddiqui, Gary Wilmes, Mushtaq Ahmed, Mohammed Afzal / Fiction / English
Riveting, beautifully performed adaptation of a headline-grabbing memoir.
The death of Daniel Pearl brought the war on terror right to the doorstep of the Western liberal intelligentsia. Here, a few months after 9/11, was a shocking shift in the rules of engagement. Here was the grisly death of a young reporter and father-to-be, murdered on account of his nationality and religion and profession, and displayed in death as a trophy. While this killing may not have been separate or different from the many others taking place daily in the name of religion or policy, it nonetheless had particular resonance: this was a small, happy life cut hideously short because of the values it was judged to represent. This film, drawn from the memoir by Pearl’s wife Mariane, is a riveting, restless account of the desperate effort to locate and save him – the network of contacts traced, the false dawns and empty leads, and the struggle to preserve hope when there was none.
It’s not hard to imagine a lesser filmmaker than Michael Winterbottom turning the Pearls’ story into a much more straightforwardly heroic yarn – all heart-pounding races against time and stirring soliloquies conducted with Oscar® night firmly in mind. But Winterbottom takes a tougher and more serious tack. Though this film never forgets or avoids the central tragedy of a young couple violently separated, and an unborn child robbed of its father, it focuses upon process, pursuit, politics, and the ways in which human beings manage near-unmanageable pressure, rather than simply serving up an emotional ordeal by proxy.
Marked out among recent fact-based films by its documentary-style immediacy and its avoidance of histrionics, it’s a cousin of United 93 rather than World Trade Center. As for Jolie, if she should find herself recognised by the Academy come March, it won’t be undeserved – but nor will it be the be-all and end-all of what she has achieved here. Hers is a tough but nuanced performance, which captures to poignant effect the strange sense of separation and otherness that can settle upon people in great pain. Mariane is hurt so badly that she moves in a kind of dream; but, as in a dream, her actions are driven by great urgency and tension. The delicacy with which the other characters treat her is one of the film’s great strengths, drawing out beautiful detail in the supporting performances of Archie Panjabi, Irfan Khan and Denis O’Hare.
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