A Mighty Heart

I have been more than usually attentive to the reception given to Michael Winterbottom’s film “A Mighty Heart” at Cannes. This has exactly the same team of producers and director as the film of my memoir Murder in Samarkand, on which the cameras are set to start rolling in February, so plainly I have a major interest in the team’s success.

The papers today all carry an account of yesterday’s press conference at the premiere, based on the Pitt/Jolie celeb power. As far as I can gather, none of these reports were written after actually seeing the film itself. The only real film review I can find so far is this rather gushing one from Fox News.

Angelina Jolie Film About Slain Reporter Daniel Pearl Filmmaking of Highest Order

Monday, May 21, 2007

By Roger Friedman

“A Mighty Heart,” Angelina Jolie’s film about the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, had its first screening Monday morning at the Cannes Film Festival.

Simply put, the Michael Winterbottom film is an exceptional piece of work, deeply affecting and filmmaking of the highest order.

In purely Hollywood terms, the film is a certain Oscar nominee. Everyone involved in “A Mighty Heart” ‘ from Winterbottom to Jolie as Pearl’s widow, Mariane, to Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl ‘ can be proud of a job very well done.

Based on the book by Mariane Pearl, the film follows the pregnant Mariane as she searches for her husband following his disappearance in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. At the time, Daniel Pearl was writing a story about shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Winterbottom’s cinema verit’-style only adds to the immediacy of the Pearl tragedy. This director has done a remarkable job.

And it’s not just Jolie and Futterman who shine. The entire supporting cast including Irfan Khan, who has already had a hit this year with “The Namesake,” and the always reliable Will Patton as a CIA agent, makes the back-stories of the film eminently watchable, too.

But ultimately it’s Winterbottom’s achievement with screenwriter John Orloff (‘Band of Brothers’) in making ‘Mighty Heart’ an ensemble piece.

Jolie, who’s probably the hottest celebrity right now and covered by every tabloid in the world, could easily have become outsized in a story with many elements. Instead, she is quite tempered here, and becomes a team player whether she likes it or not.

It’s easy to forget what a fine actress she can be. But her understanding of Mariane Pearl is unusually touching. For most of the movie, Mariane seems a little cool, distant and brittle as she absorbs the news that her husband has been kidnapped.

Jolie, however, finally shows the human side of this strong woman when she learns that her husband is actually dead. She lets loose with shrieks of anguish that are all too real. They are almost like animal cries, and I guarantee you, audiences will be pulling out the Kleenex at this moment.

Winterbottom also punctuates the film with lots of jump-cutting, nonlinear plotting and flashback, all of which help add to the tension. He and Orloff flesh out Daniel Pearl, too, a hard task since he could have vanished after the kidnapping. But working with Futterman they create a very real man who met a tragic and untimely death.

And what a strange press conference at Cannes Monday after the first screening of “A Mighty Heart.” How things have changed! There was more interest in Brangelina’s celebrity life than in the Pearl tragedy or the politics that instigated it.

I could only wonder what Mariane Pearl, who was there on the dais with the cast, producers and director, thought of this episode. It was embarrassing. One woman even managed to jump on the stage at the end and kiss Brad Pitt. Oy vey!