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Jul 5, 2007

Fletch's Film Review: A Mighty Heart

How do you make an entertaining film about someone's death? Even more so, how do you do said task when all members of the audience know that the death is coming? Separate from those two questions, why is said film released in summer, at the height of blockbuster movie season?

While director Michael Winterbottom (Code 46) is left to deal with the first two questions, the last one must be saved for the studio that released A Mighty Heart (Paramount Vintage).

Try as he might, Winterbottom succeeds in making a film that, while painful to watch (due to subject matter) at many times, is still capable of some light humor and tense drama. The story of the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, told through the eyes of his loved ones and pursuers at and after the time of his abduction in Pakistan is not an easy story to tell, to be sure. However, if any director was up to the task, it is Winterbottom, whose multi-culti style of filmmaking and feel for moods is a perfect way to take a heart wrenching story and practically turn it into a documentary, all while maintaining a standard film narrative. Though you never get the feeling that the film is choppy, you might also notice (as I did) that no single camera shot lasts longer than 10 seconds (if that) and no scene lasts longer than a few minutes. This brisk method keeps the viewer (and the characters, to some extent) from ever having a chance to sit back and wonder about the inevitable - you're too busy keeping up with all the sights and sounds onscreen to let you head get bogged down by the truth.

Many have chastised the casting of Angelina Jolie as Marianne Pearl, from reasons as diverse as "she's not ethnic-looking enough" to "she's too big a star to portray this character" to "she's distracting." These are unfair criticisms levied by people who can't or don't want to get past Jolie in their own heads. Too distracting? Too big a star? If these were true, Jolie would pretty much have to give up acting, as no one would buy her in any role. However, correct me if I'm wrong, but Jack Nicholson continues to act, and people even occasionally think he does a good job. Same goes for Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. As for the "ethnic" stance - take a look at a picture of Pearl and a picture of Jolie-as-Pearl. Tell me she doesn't look like her - if Jessica Alba can play black, white, brown, Puerto Rican or Haitian, I think Jolie can get away with Marianne Pearl. When she's in blackface and a fat suit playing Aretha Franklin, let me know.

The rest of the cast is similarly solid. Jerry Bruckheimer's favorite character actor, Will Patton, seems wildly out of place to anyone familiar with his oeuvre, but he is effective and probably doesn't stand out one bit to those unaware of his work in Remember the Titans, Armageddon, and Gone in Sixty Seconds. Irfan Khan (The Namesake) is great again in a paternal role, and, if I didn't already have a great dad, I would want to adopt him as my stepfather based solely on his acting performances. Actor-writer Dan Futterman (The Birdcage, Capote) gets to portray the saintly Daniel Pearl.

Therein lies one of the few flaws of A Mighty Heart. It's not spoiling anything to say that Danny Pearl is treated in the highest of regard here; after all, the film is shown through his widows' eyes and is based on a book she wrote about his life to her infant child. Though his relative merits or flaws are quite probably irrelevant to the story being told, there might have been a bit more meaning granted to the life and death of a human rather than of an ideal or stereotype (the honest, hardworking, truth-seeking-at-all-costs journalist).

The film concludes with a dedication from Marianne to her newborn son. "This film is for Adam," says Marianne. This is meant to be a heartwarming reassurance that their son will learn the truth about his father's life and death, and it seeks to give some closure to the story. But am I the only one that sees the story of a man's death (not his life, despite the few short snippets given) being the love letter to his child as being absurdly morbid, especially when said child is not even old enough to comprehend anything that goes on onscreen? Then again, maybe Marianne just wanted him to hear the news from his "mother" rather than from the news.

Fletch's Film Rating:


"Darn tootin'!"


4 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: A Mighty Heart"

Anonymous said...

I didn't appreciate the statement about "black face" and Aretha Franklin. Franklin's skin color is the one that white people WISH they could achieve every summer. Franklin has some of the most beautiful skin in show business. Don't try to use blacks skin colors in a degrogatory way. It's not appreciated.

Mrs Fletch said...

I still don't think the dedication of to their son was morbid. When he's old enough, he'll see it. And he should know the truth.

(Similar thought: If I was her, I would've had to watch the video of her husband's death. Morbid, yes. But still necessary.)

Fletch said...

Anonymous, I think you're seriously misinterpreting the sentence I wrote - your comment seems out of context.

My point is that people are making a big deal out of the ethnicity of Marianne Pearl versus Jolie's ethnicity. However, if you look at the two of them, there obviously can't be much of a beef by anyone.

The Franklin comment (name pulled out of a hat) is used to give an example of something that would be wildly offensive to everyone. Thus, if and when Jolie is in blackface for a role, that would be worth getting up in arms about. I'm in no way degrading Franklin's skin quality or color.

Thanks for reading.

kingnutin said...

Haven't seen the film, but glad to know from your review that Irfan Khan acted well.

He's one of the best and certainly one of the most under-rated actors in Bollywood.