Sunday, October 28, 2007


RUNTIME: 108 min.

You don’t need to read the book, a wonderfully poignant memoir, to realize that this film is a shame. A shame to the spirit of the whole tragic incident to the point that all the title of the film ceases to be is a placard. I can still remember me and my friends watching the video on the internet, and even the “hard” guys were silent. It was a tragedy. But what do Daniel and Mariane Pearl get. A shoddily made film meandering somewhere in the dark alleys that connect the docudrama and the emotional melodramatic approach to real life situations. I don’t mind either, just as long one is getting the spirit right. I’m a staunch believer in the idea that a film has absolutely no obligation to its source i.e. the book here, even in the spirit, but be as kind as to share your own interpretation. That is only if you have one. This film just skims the surface, whizzing past you a whole lot of gibberish details that even I, having read the book, found difficult to follow. More so, it betrays its own title for this movie’s heart is sure as hell not mighty. There, I say this here, if you have watched the film wondering about Daniel Pearl, you owe it to yourselves to read the book. It is a shame what a golden opportunity has been missed.
When we read a book, especially this one for we know the events, we expect to gain knowledge and details. The book achieved the purpose, and much more beyond that. When we watch a film, especially when we know Daniel Pearl’s tragic fate, what we expect is to share the emotional experiences and if some facts are thrown on the way by, still better. If you know Pearl’s death, and chances are you might know that, there’s absolutely nothing to be learnt here. The entire movie seems to go hammer and tong to portray the tragedy; we know what happened. What we have come here is to share the mighty heart, and nothing is provided on that count.
One might say, director Michael Winterbottom (The Road to Guantanamo) whose films are always political doesn’t want us to be guided by any emotion. He just wants us to know the facts and he intends to unfold the events in front of our eyes, without that cloud either political or emotional. Point taken, though he isn’t remotely this non-judgmental in his other films (Welcome to Sarajevo). I understand his complete and utter detachment with the emotional process on this reason, but I don’t necessarily agree. But if his intention is to let us know the facts, he could have been so kind as to at least grant us our right as an audience to a clear narrative. Most times, events just transpire with rapid succession aided by probably the most out of place usage of jump cuts in recent times. And to couple with that, one element I hate in films is used – characters giving us the latest up-to-dates. What this approach does is reduce all those characters, all of them potentially interesting, to a series of emotionless news readers. That the characters still manage to register a degree of connection is a triumph to the story and to the actors at work, especially Irfaan Khan (Captain) as the MI sleuth, who delivers the film’s finest performance.
And there is that ridiculous tit-for-tat reference to Guantanamo. Is that what the film asks us to think, that somehow this all gets rationalized? Conclusion: Winterbottom is a political director and here he finds himself grossly at odds with his docudrama style for the subject doesn’t deserve him, not in the least. He is a good filmmaker, sometimes, but this just isn’t his matter. He is trying to give a political tone when there isn’t any need, that at the cost of the spirit of the film.
The dialogues are laughable, and that is to put it mildly. There’re a hell of a lot of phony I can’t believes. When Marianne suggests at the table that terrorism hasn’t won for she isn’t terrorized, clichéd as it may be, it feels hollow. The very same dialogues would have been effective if not for the preceding mess that the film and its director leave. Much of it is a result of the editing style, not a single shot seems to stay for more than three seconds. After having been bored for the first 40 minutes I came up with a game, to clock my guess for the next edit. On an average I was getting 2 and that was getting predictable too. The film needed a filmmaker with intellectual tastes, like Stephen Frears used in The Queen, that lets us observe what is happening rather than forcibly guiding us by all those cuts. What Winterbottom here intends to do, I believe, is to achieve randomness, with the lives, with the city. Sir, your film simply doesn’t deserve those elements. And I re-assert, I not for a moment will agree that Winterbottom doesn’t want us to guide our emotional reactions. There is no other reason for those flashbacks to exist, yet they feel so cold, so out of place as if inserted obligatorily. By never taking the care to establish who Pearl was, and not feeling us the relationship between the couple, the director is assuming that – 1. We already know a hell of a lot about Pearl 2. We already are familiar with the inner workings of a marriage, a loving one at that.
Let me take down these two reasons. For one, we can give the director the benefit of doubt that he doesn’t want to cloud Pearl’s tragedy beforehand, he wants to create it for us at the end by showcasing Pearl just as a missing person. Silly, we all know the end coming into the theatre. For two, what the director reduces the relationship by not showing it is reducing it to a clichéd idea, where we need to withdraw memories from our bank of stereotypes. And, this move, invites comparison with the book. And as an aid, he gives us flashbacks which aren’t exactly enlightening either. Father talking to the belly of a pregnant mother, couple taking photographs over a ferry and a wedding sequence aren’t exactly novel.
Coming to the centre of attraction, Angelina Jolie doesn’t exactly set the world afire.
She is good in parts but plain bland in the rest. Jolie never, not for a moment, possesses the vulnerability of an average lady. Her Mariane seems to be a former public figure who has been thrust into normal life, and now in this tragedy, is all the grace with the media in mind. Silly there isn’t media in the house. At times she simply doesn’t have a clue as to what to do, she stares. Part of the blame of the ineffectiveness of her performance ought to be thrown at the editing too, as soon as she registers the slightest of emotions the camera movies away or the shot. Her final breakdown sequence, though good, is just a testament as to what would have been if the police procedural was trimmed in favor of Mariane’s ordeal. We all know what procedurals involve; there was no need to show Omar Saeed Sheikh’s interrogation. You know what the director wants to show there? That Sheikh has contacts with the upper echelons of every organization and he cannot be touched, forget hanged. That is true, but sequences as these betray the spirit and the director’s instincts. The very same sequence would have been wonderful in an espionage thriller; here it has no reason to exist. What are we concerned with, Mariane or police beating?
The film is being compared by some to Syriana. It is interesting because therein lies a great film based on memoirs (Robert Baer of CIA), yet not does it traverse its own views with respect to the books (See No Evil, Sleeping with the Devil). And they elevate it to a tragedy of epic proportions. Ebert comments that A Mighty Heart doesn’t reduce Pearl’s story to a plot but elevates it to a tragedy. As I look at things, the tragedy is always there for the taking, and much more, but what the film is silly for is to go for the plot. What was required is passion, to understand the book, to understand the life and to come up with a befitting homage to the Pearls. Not some extremely average by-the-numbers film, not in the least.

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