Biopic searches for communiqu

Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Mariane Pearl is not as prominent as the buzz suggests

Michael Garberich

The abduction and murder of Daniel Pearl, former South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, in February of 2002, reminded the world of the danger inherent to journalists working in areas tense with political conflict.

“A Mighty Heart”

DIRECTED BY: Michael Winterbottom
STARRING: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi
PLAYING AT: Area theaters

The event also unveiled, notable in the reaction it incited, one predominant way in which we – and that “we” is a big one, reading in order of increasing magnitude: generations and cultures and civilizations – it unveiled one way we have come to cope with tragedy. A well-known one that nonetheless we tend to overlook as cumbersome and intrusive: the media.

News coverage abounded during the story’s development, and Mariane Pearl’s memoir, “A Mighty Heart,” which recounts the life and death of her husband, quickly became a film. It has arrived from an out-of-competition screening at Cannes this April, only four years after the book’s pub- lication.

The modus operandi propelling Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation, “A Mighty Heart,” is that of the procedural. Much of the film frenetically roves through the overcrowded streets of Karachi, Pakistan (shot on location), then pauses and nervously waits for information in Asra Nomani’s – the prominent Muslim-American feminist then working as a freelancer by the Journal – gated home (shot in India).

The balance between the two locations creates an air of instability, tense by their juxtaposition and touched with additional shades of disquiet by both the handheld documentarian camerawork and a pallid, underlit picture.

Three reprised interior scenes of friends and colleagues around a dinner table contribute to the film’s overarching theme – communication – as well as reveal its overall sense of control and composure, echoing and at times aligning perfectly harmonious with Jolie’s portrayal of a stalwart Mariane.

The first shows the affluent international set jabbing one another’s Arabic-accented pronunciation of English prior to Daniel’s abduction; a second, during the peak of the investigation, is marked by trepidation and wary speculation; and the third, following the announcement of Daniel’s death, and after an irruptive, if miscued breakdown of Jolie’s Mariane, has the grief-laden buoyancy of a funeral wake – bereaved yet calm and spotted with nervous smiles – and grounded by Mariane’s assertion that her husband’s death does not signify defeat, nor should anyone feel defeated by it.

“A Mighty Heart” might have seemed dashed through the industry on its way to provoke, and indeed it came ablaze through jeers at casting Angelina as the multiracial Mariane. But it takes more screen time reinforcing the quotidian use of communication devices – cell phones, text messages, Google, newspapers (paper and online), as well as those dinner table discussions and television newscasts – than it does indulging in the actress’ sharp cheekbones and pouted lips.

“A Mighty Heart” is undeniably a vigil in honor of the Pearls (near the end Mariane’s voice dedicates the film to Adam, her unborn son at the time of Daniel’s death). But as such it is a vigil witnessed by us, the bigger us, and if Mariane wrote her book for herself and Adam, then the film is for us – an opportunity to mourn through the peculiar means we’ve developed and with which we’ve become comfortable.

Still, when the mourning ends, we should not ignore the opportunity afforded to evaluate our present landscape – the one with all the wires and cables, or more presciently, the satellite dishes and digital signals – and how we can use it to better communicate.