A Mighty Heart (2007)
Starring: Dan Futterman, Angelina Jolie, Archie Panjabi, Irfan Khan, Denis O’Hare, Will Patton, Gary Wilmes
Directed By: Michael Winterbottom
I don’t usually go see movies just for one performer. I’m more interested in story or the director/writer than I am the actors. But, I’ll admit, the main reason I was interested in seeing A Mighty Heart was star Angelina Jolie.
Not that I’m a fan of Jolie’s work, cause I’m really not. But, given the subject matter, I figured this is the type of role that will net Jolie some Oscar consideration down the road, so I might as well watch it now instead of cramming it into my Oscar watching early next year. Since I figure this is also the reason why most people will watch it (that is if anyone watches at all; it didn’t do that much business its first week in theatres), I should probably get it out of the way early: starring as Mariane Pearl, wife of journalist Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), who was kidnapped and slain while in Pakistan in 2002, Jolie gives a strong performance, probably the best I’ve ever seen Jolie bring to a movie (note: I have not seen Girl: Interrupted). In a slow year, I could see her performance earning nominations.
The movie itself is best described as perfectly adequate. Seeing it isn’t a waste of the viewer’s time, but it certainly isn’t essential viewing. Director Michael Winterbottom sets the movie up as a documentary-style thriller, giving the audience a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the weeks following Daniel’s abduction as experienced by Mariane and those helping with the search. The major problem with this approach is that it’s hard to build suspense when almost everyone in the audience already knows how the story will end (as you would assume anyone watching would. Anyone who managed to avoid this major newstory as it unfolded probably wouldn’t choose to learn about it now via movie). It’s interesting to see what Pearl’s colleagues did to track sources, and how the Pakistani police (led ably by Irfan Khan) investigated the case, but the movie feels like a race against time to save Daniel, seeming to try and invest us in a “will they save him?” way.
The movie almost succeeds at times due to the talent of those involved, but ultimately can’t because we all know the tragic way the story ends. A better approach might have been a non-linear one, where we see the efforts of those involved, but the ending we all know is coming is revealed earlier in the movie.
Adapted from Mariane Pearl’s memoir of the same name, the other flaw of the movie is its tight focus on the events from her perspective. For the most part, the movie avoids dealing with the larger themes and issues Pearl’s story invokes, choosing instead to be the story of one family’s personal tragedy. I’m sure this helps the movie stay closer to the facts it knows, but ultimately makes the movie matter little to those not involved personally with the tragedy. We sympathise with Mariane, Daniel and their family, but ultimately, their tale as presented in the movie doesn’t have much to do with anyone else. It ends up coming off as an extremely well-made TV movie, instead of a movie of real significance. Basically, it doesn’t seem to have any real reason to exist as a feature, other than to serve as an Angelina Jolie vehicle.
In the end, I don’t regret seeing it at all. It was decent enough, managing not to drag while keeping me reasonably invested (if not significantly). But, at the same time, I don’t really recommend it, and had I never seen it, I don’t think anything would be missing from my life.