Monday, April 26, 2010

Archive: "A Mighty Heart" (2007)

This is the story of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who, in 2002, was researching a story on a man named Richard Reid. The investigation drew him and his wife, Mariane Pearl, to the crowded city of Karachi, Pakistan. One night, Daniel went for an interview from an elusive source and told his wife he may be home late for dinner. He never returns. Amongst the bustling streets of this city, terrorists surfaced and took Daniel hostage. They held him prisoner until one day a horrifying video was released showing footage of Daniel's beheading. This is the story of the desperate struggle to find Mariane's husband before the awful truth is revealed. This film, "A Mighty Heart," is based on the memoir written by Mariane Pearl entitled "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl."

Angelina Jolie plays the role of Mariane Pearl and proves once and for all that she is a brilliant actress. She convincingly portrays the real-life woman not only with her physical appearance (she is nearly unrecognizable with her curly hair and dark skin), but also with her emotions and reactions. It's unfair to call her performance simply Oscar bait; yes, depicting a real-life person always helps, but it's not her fault that the Academy tends to look towards that. It's a tough role because she has to play a real person and not a movie star interpretation of a real person, and with that, she does Mariane Pearl proud. She plunges into the role and makes it who she is; her unique look and French accent of course helps with this. Whether she's demonstrating heroic self-conviction or wailing in the dark corner of a room, she is damn good.

The movie is faithful and committed to the facts but also doesn't rely too heavily on them. The search for Danny Pearl is a convoluted mess with countless investigators, friends, family, and suspects getting involved. There's the friend whose apartment is where most of the investigation roots from; the Pakistan security official who knows his way around the city; and the American agent who wishes he could be helping out more. With plenty of other people abound, the movie's fast-paced, choppy fashion makes it quite difficult to follow at times. I see this as a good thing, though. There's no need to understand exactly everything because it should not ever reach the point where the faces, places, and names actually matter. They are like a setting within all of the emotional turmoil. We know about as much (or in this case, as little) as Mariane and can comprehend about as much as she can. We feel flustered just like her, and that's exactly the point.

It's a sign of great talent when the audience can be kept enthralled even when the ending is already known. There's still plenty of snags along the way that keep it interesting including lies, gossip, and rumors about Danny Pearl's motivations and his work. Here is a thriller that depends on this type of frustration and confusion. We get lost in the story, sometimes even literally, and we feel the sense of urgency throughout. The movie is also somewhat of a political piece, but luckily, it doesn't elevate anything to that of exploitation to ensure it's rightfully placed emotional impact. We don't hear too much about the kidnapping terrorists and we don't ever witness the beheading video because they are like a separate entity never to be truly revealed.

Through it all, Mariane Pearl is the heartbeat and core of the film. She is the voice of dignity, hope, and strength, holding the fabric of everything together. When we witness her speak to CNN interviewers, we understand how her mind works. When asked how she is coping with her husband's death, she goes on to explain that in the same period of time, countless other journalists under the same circumstances were killed and that her situation is just one of many. Like that single response, she is reserved and calculates her every action. She is a courageous woman in the face of this tragedy in her life, and she stays strong and firm. Most endearing are the words she states once the search for her husband subsides; they are beautifully spoken.

"A Mighty Heart" is directed by British director Michael Winterbottom, who films the movie in a docudrama style with zero Hollywood frills attached. It's effectively made, is as jolting as it is heart-wrenching, and is held together almost entirely by, yes, I'll say it, Angelina Jolie's Oscar-caliber performance. It's an important film that brings attention to this most devastating of tragedies; it's a worthy movie on this very tragic and sensitive subject and is approached with great sincerity and respect.

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