A Mighty Heart


Angelina Jolie reads her reviews.

Angelina Jolie reads her reviews.

(2007) True Life Drama (Paramount Vantage) Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi, Irfan Khan, Will Patton, Sajid Hasan, Denis O’Hare, Aly Khan, Adnan Siddiqui, Perrine Moran, Jeffry Kaplow, Ahmed Jamal, Demetri Goritsas, Mohammed Azfal, Ahmed Jamal, Imran Patel, Veronique Darleguy, Gary Wilmes, Jean-Jacques Scaerou, Jillian Armenante. Directed by Michael Winterbottom

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On January 23, 2002, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal investigating ties between “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and Al Qaeda was kidnapped from the streets of Karachi, Pakistan by a group of Muslim extremists. His wife was five months pregnant with their son at the time.

The kidnapping of Daniel Pearl (Futterman) is today a fairly well-known occurrence by most Americans. His wife, Mariane (Jolie) would write a biography of her husband which described their life together and the harrowing last days of his life, before he was beheaded by his captors on February 1 despite her many pleas for clemency and denials of the terrorist assertions that Pearl was a CIA spy (to this day there have been no links shown between Pearl and any intelligence agency).

The movie made from her book mostly shows Pearl through flashback in almost idyllic tones. Most of the film’s plot revolves around Mariane’s ordeal as she tries to remain as composed as possible considering the extraordinary circumstances as well as the efforts by the United States Diplomatic Security Services, exemplified by Special Agent Randall Bennett (Patton), the Department of Justice and the Pakistani Capital City Police, exemplified by Officer Mir Zubair Mahmood (Khan) to track down the kidnappers and bring them to justice.

Throughout she is supported by close friends like Asra Nomani (Panjabi) and colleagues of her husband such as his WSJ editor John Bussey (O’Hare) and Steve LeVine (Wilmes), ultimately this is an ordeal Mariane must go through alone. That she went through it with such grace and dignity is a credit to the triumph of humanity over depravity.

Jolie delivered a performance that may be the crowning achievement of her career in this film. It was certainly Oscar-worthy, although the movie’s June release date and box office failure likely were the causes of her not receiving a nomination for Best Actress. She plays Mariane with a good deal of emotional control, although the scene in which she is informed of her husband’s death is absolutely devastating. There is also a sense of her concern early in the film as she has some friends over for dinner, but the place setting for her husband who was on his way to an interview remains empty; her glances in the direction of the empty chair are subtle yet telling.

Both Jolie and Futterman resemble their real-life counterparts somewhat eerily (particularly in Futterman’s case). In fact, I would have liked to have seen Futterman as Pearl a bit more in the storyline; after all, Mariane Pearl wrote the book about her husband and not about herself. However, the focus of the movie is entirely on Mariane and Daniel is almost an afterthought in many ways except in flashbacks which show an almost idyllic lifestyle between the two. Oddly, these flashbacks seem a little overly manipulative and overly idealized. Daniel Pearl is in many ways not present in the film that is ostensibly about his wife but is in reality more about his death. In my mind, that does a disservice to not only the good man that he was but also the work that he did.

That said, I found it troubling that the casting of Jolie was groused about by some critics who said that they found her celebrity distracting when viewing her performance. Personally, I think film critics who can’t get past the celebrity of an actor are probably not in the right profession. Every actor brings something of their own personality and experiences into the performance of their roles; if you are judging a performance by what TMZ is saying about an actor, you aren’t doing your job. But I digress.

Winterbottom adopts an almost documentary style in telling his story, although the flashbacks tend to put paid to the documentary feel of the film. After watching the film, I did feel that I wished I knew more about Pearl the man; those who feel similarly can get more of a sense of who he was should probably see the Emmy-winning HBO documentary The Journalist and the Jihadi which tells Pearl’s story with some background on his life in addition to the story of his kidnapping and execution.

At the end of the day, what happened to Daniel Pearl was barbarous and undeserved. However, it also must be said that he was more than just the last days of his life – he was a loving husband, a dutiful son, a proud Jew, a skilled writer, an insightful journalist and a thrilled father-to-be. Looking at his life as a tragedy tells only half the story. However, one cannot deny that Mariane Pearl makes for an interesting film subject as well and Jolie’s performance is truly inspiring. I can’t help feeling however that the film would have benefited from more of her husband’s presence, rather than being just a memory. He was and remains more than that to her.

WHY RENT THIS: A magnificent performance by Jolie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Manipulative and focuses less on the late journalist than it does on his wife.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some horrific violence herein as well as some sexuality and its share of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A featurette on the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists which rose out of this incident as well as a Public Service Announcement for the Pearl Foundation.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: $18.9M on a $16M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Harrison’s Flowers

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The conclusion of Our Film Library!

W.


W

The easy crack would be of Dubya conversing with intellectual equals, but that would be TOO easy.

(Lionsgate) Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfus, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Jeffrey Wright, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffud, Thandie Newton, Jesse Bradford, Toby Jones. Directed by Oliver Stone

When all is said and done, one of the most fascinating political figures of the last fifty years is George W. Bush. Love him or hate him, there is simply no in-between.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone is known for his liberal viewpoint and he’s no stranger to making movies about chief executives (Nixon). He is also known for playing fast and loose with facts in order to get his point across.

He doesn’t do that here. This is a remarkable movie in that sense, what appears to be a sincere attempt to understand a president who has been, in many ways, a complete mystery. It’s not the facts of his life that are in dispute; it’s just that people can’t figure out how this guy became president and then once he became president, why he made the decisions he did.

Josh Brolin is in the title role and he plays the President starting from his frat years at Yale all the way to his last year as President. He gets his mannerisms down pat, just nails them and yet refrains from making his performance a Saturday Night Live caricature. If you ever doubted that Josh Brolin is a fine actor, one glimpse of his performance here will dissuade any notion of that.

The story is not told chronologically for a reason. Stone’s intent is not to tell the story of Bush’s presidency but to examine the man in the office. It looks at his daddy issues, as his father George H.W. Bush (Cromwell) seems to favor his brother Jeb over him, and it’s certainly understandable. George drinks heavily, parties like a fiend and is generally successful at nothing.

His father is skeptical when George runs for Governor of Texas and surprised when he wins. It does serve to change his opinion of his son somewhat, to the point where he asks him to run his campaign (which he loses to Clinton).

His relationship with Laura (Banks) is central to the movie and we can see her influence on him and how much her support helped him grow. There is no doubt that he is a family man and that he has a spiritual side that is strong and sincere.

The actors for the most part capture their roles perfectly. Dreyfus and Wright do wonderful jobs as Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, respectively. We don’t get much insight into them as people other than as they relate to Dubyah, but then this is HIS movie.

How accurate is this? Surprisingly, quite a bit. Obviously there’s no way of knowing what went on behind closed doors or what precisely was said by whom. Still, what is said and done is consistent with published accounts of the Bush presidency. I’m sure that this isn’t a 100% accurate biography of George W. Bush (his family has gone on record as saying that it is not), but then is anything? At least it seems somewhat fair-minded.

I have gone on record with my opinions of the Bush presidency on my other blog and there’s no need to rehash it here. In many ways, this movie is apolitical; the argument is that Bush was the poster boy for the Peter Principle. He was ill-prepared for the job; clearly he wasn’t capable. He had advisors that for better or worse essentially set policy. Whatever you stand is politically, you don’t need to love George W. Bush to love this movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Remarkably apolitical despite the filmmakers known political leanings, this is more an attempt to understand Bush rather than to form an opinion about him. Extremely well-cast, the actors all resemble their famous roles.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Like many Oliver Stone films, it runs a bit longer than it probably should have.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of foul language, depictions of drinking and smoking, a bit of sexuality and some disturbing war images; definitely this is for more mature viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Josh Brolin’s dad James played another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, in the TV mini-series “The Reagans.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a documentary on the Bush family directed by Sean Stone, Oliver’s son.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Transporter 3