Facts of death
A MIGHTY HEART Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Irrfan Khan, Archie Panjabi, Will Patton, Amer Bail 15A cert, gen release, 100 min
THE world premiere of A Mighty Heart at Cannes in May took on a particular urgency at a time when BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston had been missing for three months. Thankfully, Johnston lived to survive the horrific fate of the movie’s subject, Danny Pearl, who was the South Asia bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002.
Michael Winterbottom’s film is formed in the style of a dramatised documentary as it follows the dogged quest to find and rescue Pearl. It is based on a memoir written by his widow Mariane, a freelance reporter for French radio and television. Mariane was five months pregnant with their first child at the time, and the Pearls were due to leave Pakistan for Dubai the following day.
Danny had been researching a story on shoe bomber Richard Reid and had one more interview to conduct. He was never seen again – until the appalling circumstances of his death were revealed in a video circulated for propaganda purposes.
Through Mariane’s frightened eyes, the human level of the story compellingly unfolds in parallel with the complex political dimension as we observe the five-week search carried out by Pakistan’s counter-terrorism unit, the FBI and several journalists. The film benefits significantly from Winterbottom’s recent experience of working in the region on In This World and The Road to Guantanamo.
John Orloff’s screenplay assembles layers of data and counter-claims made during the investigation before it reached its tragic conclusion. It could be argued that there is more detail than is necessary or can easily be absorbed, and the screenplay feels cluttered. The recent Zodiac (see DVD review, right) and Breach, for example, were more adept in taking a procedural approach to complicated, factually based stories.
Apart from such notable exceptions as United 93, most post-9/11 movies have suffered from information overload that undermined their purposes, from Babel and World Trade Centre to the imminent Redacted and Rendition.
While Angelina Jolie is effectively understated as Mariane Pearl, performing with feeling and empathy, Danny (played by lookalike Dan Futterman, who scripted Capote) features all too peripherally in flashbacks – even though the full title of the book that’s the basis of the film is A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death ofMy Husband Danny Pearl.
Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl