Tuesday, January 08, 2008


We know how this ends

By Edward Copeland
Telling the story of well-known events can be a tricky thing, especially in a story as well known as what happened to Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl when he was abducted in Pakistan.

Angelina Jolie gives a solid performance as Pearl's wife Marianne, but A Mighty Heart seems stuck in neutral for its entire running time since we know where it's headed.

I was hoping that Michael Winterbottom's film of Marianne Pearl's book would teach me something new about the efforts to find Daniel Pearl, but it is presented in such a dry way, that it didn't do much for me.

Compare it to David Fincher's great Zodiac from last year, and as a procedural it just can't compete.

A Mighty Heart doesn't really add much on the emotional side either. Jolie's performance is mostly good (you forget that it's her for the most part), but once she gets the devastating news of Daniel's death, her shrieking scene reminded me of Grace Zabriskie's reaction to the news of Laura's death in the very first episode of Twin Peaks: It just goes on and on and you know A Mighty Heart didn't mean it to be funny on some level, but it's so over the top, you just can't help but react that way, despite the tragic truth of the story that lies beneath.

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I think you hit the nail on the head. United 93 was all the more powerful by virtue of its cinema verite style - everything was presented in such a no-frills, naturalistic, matter-of-fact style that you forgot you were watching a movie.

That didn't work for A Mighty Heart. It felt like something was missing in terms of dramatic substance - the approach felt rather clinical and dispassionate, when it seemed to demand a degree of emotionalism.

I thought Jolie was fine - but I didn't forget who I was watching. In some ways, by virtue of the accent, the hair, and the makeup (and the crying scene, as you point out), it seemed too showy a performance for a film as "procedural" (there I go quoting you again) as this.
United 93 is a great example of telling a story whose outcome we know without sacrificing drama or suspense. Another one I thought of was Apollo 13, where I knew the astronauts would make it back safely but Ron Howard still managed to build suspense about the outcome.
Jolie is the best thing about the piece, and I can't complain about her Oscar buzz. She gives a solid performance with one mistake. Her crying scene reminded me of the hideous scene in Philadelphia where Tom Hanks turns red while weeping to opera music (why not a show tune, honey?--Oh no, I'm turning into Josh R.!) This movie exists solely for this performance.

Winterbottom is not a director who invests his films with any degree of emotionalism. His movies come out dry, even when they're good. Tristam Shandy benefitted from this, and 9 Songs did not. Who can make hardcore fucking boring as hell? Michael Winterbottom can! I mean, the man's name evokes the words "Cold Ass." What are you expecting?
I wouldn't watch United 93 or any 9/11 movie if you paid me, so I can't speak to that movie's effectiveness at all.
I'm a big fan of this move and Angelina Jolie in particular. It's really good to see her evolve as an actress and I hope she gets and gives good performances like this in the future.
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