A Mighty Heart

Indecent Exposure

A Mighty Heart. Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, and Archie Panjabi star in a film written by John Orloff and directed by Michel Winterbottom.

It’s strange to admit that this account of a journalist’s worst nightmare (a deeply tragic human story, too, with a noble real-life protagonist) did not move me very much. In fact, throughout most of the film I felt fairly removed, partly because the film itself feels unsteady on its own narrative axis, wobbling between genres.

Some of A Mighty Heart is a political thriller in the Costa-Gavras vein; some is procedural retelling of a story we more or less already know-at least the outcome-and, finally, the film means to be a tour de force performance by an actress not known for profundity. I felt more suspense wondering if Jolie could pull off her serious role in French drag than I did watching the rehashing of Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping from the claustrophobic yet sprawling and exoticised city of Karachi.

Jolie, as Mariane Pearl, does emote and howl in a wardrobe that tries a little vainly to disguise her glamorous persona. And though she is good, at a crucial juncture in the film she spits defiance at an American broadcast journalist who asks shamelessly if she watched the videotape of her husband’s vile murder. “Have you no decency?” she replies in French. At precisely that moment, I began to wonder at my own voyeuristic motivation watching this story unfold.

A simulacrum of a current event, A Mighty Heart does not dissect and turn its topic into cinematic poetry, as director Michael Winterbottom did with the city of Manchester in 24 Hour Party People. Here Winterbottom seems vexed by star power-don’t tell me Jolie and producer/hubby Brad Pitt didn’t have any control over the script. It’s not really a political film, either, although Islamic culture comes off as being rather unevolved.

Its heroine is the central metaphor. Pregnant Mariane Pearl survived a horrible ordeal, and this film offers Hollywood encouragement via America’s favorite message: Believe in your dreams. Beyond that it’s hard to know why this film got made without critique or moral, except maybe to get the actress an Oscar. And that’s the ultimate indecency.

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