Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Mighty Heart: film about Daniel Pearl kidnapping in Pakistan


A Mighty Heart (2007, Paramount Vantage, dir. Michael Winterbottom, book (A Mighty Heart: The Inside Story of the Al Qaeda Kidnapping of Danny Pearl) by Marianne Pearl, 100 min, R, France/UK).

I am aware of a credible report from someone who claims that Osama bin Laden was present in Karachi, Pakistan at a social function late in 2000, less than a year before 9/11, with some connections to the family (whatever the reports about most of the family in the media). It always made sense. Karachi (Sindi, in the province of Sindh) is the big coastal city in Pakistan, of over 14 million, where as the capital Islamabad is in the interior. If bin Laden wanted to escape by sea, it’s obvious that a covert route could be set up. Of course, based on the backgrounds of the numerous videotapes we have seen over a few years, most major media sources believe that he (with fanatical Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri) is still in the tribal areas on the border of Pakistan (“the Land of the Pure”) and Afghanistan.

Much of this film was shot on location in Karachi (and looks quite breathtaking in Cinemascope), and some of it in Mumbai (Bombay), and in one line late in the film Marianne Pearl (Angelina Jolie) says that the city is teeming with terrorists. She also says that this will happen wherever there is a huge gap between the rich and poor and, moreover, where some people grow up expecting to depend on their religious, familial and even tribal structures to give their lives meaning, while others, in a global free society, trample it and rip away what gives people, in ways we would not grasp, their own sense of freedom. Dan Futterman (Daniel Pearl) told the NBC Today Show that some of the film was shot in Islamabad, too, but that didn't seem apparent in watching the movie.

The film's story of the January 2002 kidnapping and execution of journalist Daniel Pearl (that is, as played by Dan Futterman) is told from Marianne point of view, for the most part, with a few flashbacks of her life with Daniel. The script makes much of the fact that they are both professional journalists. He pregnancy is truly a product of their marital love, as it should be (the wedding in India is shown in flashback). Daniel sets up a clandestine meeting with someone (called a "fixer" in journalism circles) who may have had close ties to 9/11. At the meeting, he is told that the Jews were responsible for 9/11. Al Qaeda suggests that journalists are voyeurs, to feed the curiosity of people who do not want to share the shame and suffering of others. When the radicals ask Pearl if he is Jewish, he always replies calmly that he was born of Jewish parents, but does not claim to practice the faith. It is all quite moralistic in its own way, just as the far Left in the United States could be so moralistic in the 1960s and 70s.

But for most of the movie, she comes to the slow by inevitable realization that Daniel is kidnapped, and eventually that he is dead. One of the other Wall Street Journal correspondents, I believe played by Demetri Goritsas, looks enough like Futterman to cause some visual confusion. Jolie does some extreme acting when she is told, “Daniel didn’t make it,” and only later does she learn of the decapitation and dismemberment of the corpse (possibly by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed). She also does extreme acting when she gives birth to new life, Adam; one of the last scenes of the film shows her on a crowded street in Paris.

The film does not mention or show Daniel Pearl’s talents in playing the violin, which would have been an opportunity to bring music into the story. See the Daniel Pearl Foundation, http://www.danielpearl.org/

Like Babel, this ambitious film comes from Paramount Vantage, the renamed subsidiary of Paramount that used to be called Paramount Classics.

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