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June 23, 2007

A Mighty Heart

a mighty heart.jpg

Michael Winterbottom - 2007
Paramount Vantage 35mm Film

There is one problem with Michael Winterbottom's film of A Mighty Heart - it's not the book. Two things that Mariane Pearl did successfully in telling her story were to give the reader details about the several people connected with her in the search for Daniel Pearl, and to make the reader have a sense of hope that Daniel Pearl would be found, in spite of our knowing what would happen to him. Also, Mariane Pearl gives the reader a better sense of Daniel Pearl.

My response to the film may have been different had I not read Mme. Pearl's story. While Winterbottom and screenwriter John Orloff may have conveyed the general essense of the book, what is missing is any sense of Daniel Pearl's sense of humor, which Mariane Pearl refers to frequently. The film audience sees the journalist who is interested in relaying the stories of those who may not otherwise be heard, and the cultural traveler whose own marriage to Mariane Pearl represents a mix of ethnicities and religious beliefs.

What the film does succeed at is providing concrete images of the chaos that is Karatchi, Pakistan. Parts of Mariane Pearl's voice overs are complimented by a combination of documentary footage as well as documentary style recreations of events. What may have been the best decision was to limit the scenes of Daniel Pearl's kidnapping to the few known facts rather than attempting a dramatic, fictionalized recreation of that event.

There has been some discussion regarding A Mighty Heart as being something of a companion piece to Winterbottom's Road to Guantanamo. I would offer as a counter-argument that the film in need of re-examination is Beyond Borders. The same humanistic impulses that inspired Angelina Jolie to star in Martin Campbell's film are likely what encouraged Mariane Pearl to trust Jolie with her story. Both films are about women who seek to address some of the inequalities in the world, one as a United Nations aid worker, the other as a journalist. While Beyond Borders relies too much on coincidence and contrivance to support a romantic storyline, the mighty heart of the film and the filmmakers is in the right place. If A Mighty Heart is the better of the two films, it is because it has more modest goals and the benefit of a true story.

Even though Jolie is the star of the film, Winterbottom often frames her as part of the ensemble of the people in the house in Karatchi, where most of the film takes place. The one significant time when Jolie is shot in close-up is during her howl of grief when Mariane first learns about the death of Danny. More than any other moment in A Mighty Heart, the sense of loss is palpable. An almost similar expression of pain is repeated when Mariane gives birth to her son, Adam. The film ends with Mariane and the four year old Adam walking away from the camera, on a street in Paris, a quiet resolution following the anger and anguish that have been portrayed. I am not sure if a better film of A Mighty Heart could have been made, but what I do know is that the best version of Mariane Pearl's story is the one she tells herself.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 23, 2007 10:37 PM


Thanks for this calm and well-reasoned piece. The first "review" I read was from one Debbie Schlussel, who worked herself into a towering snit because there were too many nice Muslim characters and the director kept showing the veiled housekeeper's cute little boy and one guy playing a Jewish character looked too Jewish. She also claims that the film effectively endorses the horrendous slur about Jewish people not showing up for work on 9/11, which scene I guess you missed, huh?

I am interested in seeing this one, despite finding AJ a somewhat predictable actress. It has always seemed to me that she saves her daring for her personal life, and that her acting choices are quite safe by contrast. Still, she definitely has something on screen, aside from her jaw-dropping beauty.

The film is doing poorly at the box office, which I attribute to people thinking it will be a major downer. Ironically, the ending you describe sounds as positive as one could get from such a tragic story. Pearl has said "my happiness is my revenge."

Posted by: Campaspe at June 26, 2007 01:37 PM

Too many Muslims in A Mighty Heart? The events took place in Pakistan. I don't know who this Debbie Schlussel is but it sounds like she never read Mme. Pearl's book. I am certain that the people who have objected to Angelina Jolie as Mme. Pearl based on misinformed reasons have not read the book either. It's unfortunate that the point of Pearl's story may well be missed by those who could learn from it.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at June 27, 2007 01:29 AM