A Mighty Heart Michael Winterbottom

A Mighty Heart Michael Winterbottom
As difficult as it may be to sit through the brutal play-by-play recount of the painstaking and ultimately futile search for the kidnapped Daniel Pearl, the considerably greater challenge is in the telling.

The difficulties for the filmmakers of A Mighty Heart include sifting through the myriad inconsequential clues, false leads and disappointing encounters while still engaging the audience. That’s a balancing act director Michael Winterbottom deftly handles with an ease of purpose as he follows the determined Captain of Pakistan’s counterterrorism unit (played by the terrific Irrfan Khan) through the overpopulated streets of Karachi in search of a needle in a haystack.

The next obstacle is finding an estimable way to tell the story of Pearl, The Wall Street Journal reporter who was beheaded by Pakistani extremists mere months after 9/11. The inherent drama of the events and the current polarised political climate lend themselves to a sensationalised treatment. However, the British Winterbottom remains true to his proven form, sticking like glue to Mariane Pearl’s own account of the events and applying his docudrama techniques from In This World and The Road to Guantanamo, which include filming on handheld DV and relying on improvised performances. The results provide a realistic tension that winds down so tight we suffer from claustrophobia and end up begging for some element of fantasy to escape the inevitable ending.

There is one difficulty that even Winterbottom’s talents can’t remedy, however. As the heart of the story — Daniel Pearl (Capote scribe Dan Futterman) — remains missing for the majority, the focus rests on his resilient wife Mariane. The film is thus anchored by Angelina Jolie’s admirably restrained performance, which is unfortunately eclipsed by her unmistakable lips. Indeed, Jolie’s presence is a tad distracting, as the celebrity absorbs the portrayal. Making things more difficult is the fact that Mariane attempted to keep a poker face throughout the search so as not to stress the baby she was pregnant with, leaving Jolie’s performance as largely disaffecting.

So while the film is left with no avenue but to pine for Mariane, it goes without saying that during such stretches we are stubbornly eager to get back to that tormented search for Daniel, and its inevitable horrific conclusion. (Paramount Vantage)