A Mighty Heart

July, 2007, Drama

Directed by:Michael Winterbottom

Starring:Angelina Jolie</br>Dan Futterman</br>Will Patton</br>Irfan Khan</br>

Frenetic- (adj.) (1) excessively agitated; (2) distraught with fear or other violent emotion. (From the Greek “phrenitikos”, literally “inflammation of the brain”.)

Movies, by their very nature, have the capacity to visually depict this emotional state more perfectly than any other art form. Working with a skillful editor, a film director can “cut” his story to create an artificially compressed sense of time, employ images on a split screen so two scenes can be seen simultaneously while shifting the audience’s point of view from one vantage point to another so rapidly that viewer agitation is a foregone conclusion. A Might Heart, the story of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl’s abduction, torture and assassination in Islamabad pulsates with all three shades of this definition; Pearl’s wife Mariane experienced violent emotion, the authorities exhibited excessive agitation and Pearl’s assassins exuded the original Greek meaning of the word. In exactly 100 minutes, director Michael Winterbottom’s riveting tale presents an almost morbidly compelling example of what is now known as a “hate crime” while also showcasing the talents of Angelina Jolie, his superstar leading lady, making this movie a worthy addition to the political thriller subgenre that includes such classics as Z, Battle For Algiers and Bloody Sunday.

Winterbottom effectively analyzed a society in chaos 10 years ago with Welcome to Sarajevo and his ability to present Pakistan’s capital city as an overcrowded metropolis in meltdown following the Taliban’s collapse in neighboring Afghanistan represents Heart’s greatest accomplishment. A day before his intended return to New York, Pearl was tricked into taking an interview with what he believed to be a well known Islamic radical cleric; when he failed to return home for a farewell dinner with his very pregnant wife and friends, a month-long nightmare ensued, stressing US/Pakistan relations to the breaking point and torturing Marianne with day after day of false leads, dashed hopes and ultimately the loss of her husband, all played out amid a jostling circus of activity involving the local police, the FBI and Pearl’s Wall Street Journal colleagues. Those frenzied days were chronicled by Pearl’s widow in a book which forms the source of screenwriter John Orloff’s script. It traces the complex thread of leads the authorities pursued which led to the arrest of the ringleaders - - but not their underlings, who beheaded the journalist before hacking his body to pieces. Winterbottom and Orloff spare the audience the physical brutality involved, which only makes the accompanying mental anguish all the more unbearable. 

That result benefits greatly from Ms. Jolie’s performance as Marianne; despite the actress’s paparazzi-worshipped persona, she doesn’t allow the focus of the film to wander off point; this is the story of a grieving woman about to lose the father of her soon-to-be-born son and while the film’s action concerns her husband, she’s the movie’s principal focus. Jolie conveys her subject’s strength and determination without resorting to theatrics unworthy of the film’s events and her primal reaction upon learning of Daniel’s death will surely be one of this year’s Oscar-worthy acting highlights.   

A strong supporting cast headed by Irfan Khan (The Namesake) as the senior police in charge of the investigation and Will Patton as the eerily menacing American official with whom Khan is forced to work contribute importantly to Heart’s success, but pride of place goes to the images of Islamabad; it’s claustrophobically packed streets, brutally effective police procedures and menacingly dark slums conspire perfectly to underscore the near hysteria which accompanies the unfolding events that Winterbottom provides. If it accomplishes nothing else, A Might Heart destroys any thought Westerners might have about ever seeing Islamabad as a future tourist destination, despite the obvious concern many Pakistanis had about this horrible act of terrorism.

As Pearl, Dan Futterman, (much seen in various U. S. television series) has little to do but look appropriately vulnerable, which he does well enough, but the director includes so many flashbacks of this young journalistic couple’s all-too-short married life that they take on a soap-opera quality, robbing the movie of important momentum and gravitas. The decision to couple Ms. Jolie’s anguished outcry upon learning of her husband’s death with her subsequent screams in childbirth teeters on the maudlin.

Those qualms aside, Winterbottom and Jolie have fashioned a wrenchingly powerful film, well worth the time and emotional cost expended in seeing it. It’s consistently grim message makes Mrs. Pearl’s dignified reaction to the horror of her husband’s torture and death an example of understated heroism.

The verdict? Tough to watch, but an example of first-rate dramatic storytelling. See it.     

Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus