Screenwriter: John Orloff
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Released: 21st September
Post 9/11 cinema has created a strange conflict for critics and viewers alike. How does one qualify how “good” a film is when it deals with the most delicate of current events? Few filmmakers are brave enough to tackle such issues, and the results have been mixed. Paul Greengrass’s visceral and nauseating United 93 was embraced by most critics, while Oliver Stone’s sentimental World Trade Center alienated many others. Michael Winterbottom, a uniquely talented British director, has turned his camera to the other end of the world affected by 9/11 and the wars in Afghanastan and Iraq. He’s told the stories of Afghans fleeing for Great Britain in 2002’s In This World, and in 2006 he documented the case studies of wrongfully imprisoned men at the Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp in Road to Guantanamo.
In A Mighty Heart, Winterbottom recounts the events surrounding the 2002 kidnapping of American journalist Daniel Pearl, as documented by his wife Marianne Pearl in her book of the same name. In Karachi, on his way to an interview with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani which was intended to be part of a story he was writing about shoe bomber Richard Reid, Danny (Dan Futterman) is kidnapped. Angelina Jolie, in her most mature role yet, plays Marianne, a French journalist who is five months pregnant with her and Danny’s first child.
Winterbottom follows the events on two fronts – one is the police procedural story of how Pakistani and US intelligence officers tear through Karachi to seek out and interrogate witnesses, and the other is Marianne, who spends every anxious hour in a home rented out by Indian colleague Asra (Archie Panjabi).
The procedural segment is fascinating – Winterbottom seems to know Karachi like Scorsese knows New York. No other western filmmaker in recent memory has been able to establish such a sense of place in this part of the world. Winterbottom sticks with his familiar documentary style camera – hand held and almost ducking and hiding from the action at times. Irfan Khan’s “Captain” leads the investigation into suspected terrorist cells and heavily armed hostile territory in search of clues. They take on machine gun fire and, in one scene, possibly torture a suspect. This is gritty, sweaty, scary stuff, and Winterbottom manages to open our eyes to something extraordinary.
As far as the victim, Danny, Winterbottom refuses to speculate on the unknown. We get the same information about Danny that Marianne gets, and nothing more. Other filmmakers would be tempted to show Danny’s final days to strengthen the emotional punch, but that’s not the point here. Jolie, though given plenty of close-ups, resists the temptation to periodically launch Oscar-ready clips, and her nuanced performance should be applauded. Marianne Pearl is a Buddhist with a wealth of cultural knowledge, and hers is a message of tolerance – anyone expecting a screaming, victimized white woman in Pakistan will be disappointed. A Mighty Heart never intends to entertain, but it feels terribly important and tells a fascinating story and achieves a deeper level of insight into another culture.