Monday, October 29, 2007

A Mighty Heart

Heart in the right place

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Irrfan Khan, Archie Punjabi
Director: Michael Winterbottom





The fear with movies, which tackle real life incidents, is that they can very often succumb to the temptation of sensationising their source material for dramatic and commercial purposes.

That's where this reverting docu-drama by British director Michael Winterbottom-- of films such as Welcome to Sarajevo and 24 Hour Party People -wins you over for its restrained, judicious handing of a sensitive subject.

The film depicts the high-voltage drama about Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), who was kidnapped and murdered by jihadists in 2002 and his pregnant wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie), who prefers to be in the centre of the search operation for her husband.

Right from the moment Daniel and and his wife arrive in Karachi (both work as journalists in South Asia), Pakistan - he wants to investigate the connection between shoe bomber Richard Reid and militant Islamic groups. Though his established network of fixers, Daniel gets an appointment for an interview with the elusive Sheikh Gilani, an Islamic cleric.

Daniel is cautioned by Randall Bennett (Will Patton) of the U.S. consulate to play it safe and stick to public places only. The journalist calls a taxi to take him to an agreed-upon restaurant and is never heard from again.

From here on, the film focuses on Mariane’s five-week ordeal to find her husband, who is alternately accused of working for the CIA and Mossad. The kidnapping is an embarrassment to the Pakistani government and all efforts are made by the CID and other officials to grab the terrorists. Headquartered in the home of Daniel’s colleague Asra (played superbly by Archie Panjabi), the search meets with a frustrating and tragic result.

Shot mostly in Mumbai, Karachi and Pune (yes, a few patches of the city have been passed off as Karachi!), the film has been treated with a certain gripping, realistic rigour, giving a sense into the intricate web of small and big international terrorist networks which exist in Karachi.


Angelina Jolie delivers a knockout performance, with a pitch perfect French accent, seldom letting her poster girl image overwhelm the film. Dan Futterman, as Daniel Pearl, has a short role but he suits the part well. Incidentally, the film has several Indian actors in the film and a considerable part of it is in Hindi, with English subtitles. Leading the pack here, of course is Irrfan Khan, who plays the CDI chief. Though the role is substantial, it seldom plays in the forefront to leave a lasting impact. In fact, even television actor Aly Khan, who plays a dreaded terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh has a more forceful part. But, by and large, this is a Jolie show all the way.

Quite admirably, the filmmaker resists the temptation of portraying the thrid world in a negative light and instead, focuses on how terrorism can raise its ugly head in the most tragic ways and the best way to deal with it is- not to be terrorized by it, as Marriane says.

And quite prudently, the director avoids showing the gory tapes depicting Daniel's brutal killing, and instead focuses on its humane element.

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