Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Not a Mighty Movie

I went to A Mighty Heart yesterday afternoon, and somewhere around the mid-point I fell asleep. I jolted awake, ashamed of myself for not feeling more at the story of an American murdered by terrorists, and momentarily distressed that I had missed something important. But the film was still plodding on unaware of me, as it meticulously reconstructed all the different Ahmeds and Mohammeds and Sarifs and Aris who had played a part in the kidnapping and beheading of journalist, Daniel Pearl.

The movie has a very restrained point of view, which doesn't work from a craft standpoint. It spends way too much time in the minutia of the disappearance and pursuit, especially because everybody in the theater knows that Pearl is going to be found dead eventually. The film spends way too little time demonstrating how either Daniel Pearl or his wife Marianne have "a mighty heart." Just being murdered by blood-thirsty Al Quaeda thugs or being related to someone who is murdered by blood-thirsty Al Quaeda thugs, doesn't make one mighty. It does make one a pawn in a larger game, but the film doesn't do much with that notion either.

I was waiting to see Daniel Pearl, or his wife, Marianne, reach out in some heroic way to the Muslim murderers, and in so doing, help those Muslims find their humanity. Presumably, if we treat blood-lusting monsters like people, they might be drawn into acting human. It's worth a shot, because even if we die naive, we might still go to heaven for the attempt (as long as the angels don't find us in contempt for stupidity...terrorism is so complicated).

Anyway, the film has a note at the end that it is dedicated to Pearl's son, Adam, who was born after his father was murdered. I found that confusing. There is very little about Daniel Pearl in the movie. Just a lot of quick flash backs as Marianne (played with a lot of pacing and staring by Angelina Jolie), remembers her husband in quiet moments here and there. I can't see wanting a son to watch a film that makes much of the vile human footnotes who participated in butchering his father.

There were other odd choices in the movie, that I think are the result of either political correctness or downright terror of the terrorists who are, after all, the providers of the tragic story here. For example, there is a scene in which the good guys from the Pakistani government, who are desperately searching for Pearl, torture a jihadist for information. I thought it was an odd choice, because the movie also makes the choice not to show any of the torture and beheading of Daniel Pearl by the bad guys.

I think by doing this, the movie was maybe trying to say that there are no real bad guys or good guys in the global war on terror. The prevailing "Hate Bush" culture has gotten so bad that everybody is saying insane things like the U.S. is just as bad as the guys who did 9/11, so who are we to judge the guys who beheaded Daniel Pearl? I mean, maybe they had a good reason, right? Maybe U.S. foreign policy forced them to cut off Pearl's head? And maybe all they had around was a butter-knife? Hey, isn't it really a kind of arrogance to say the jihadists are evil?

But no one sane in the audience really believes that, so why even try to make the case? Or in the case of the movie, not make any case, about goodness or evilness. I'm officially closing my mind on this one: People who cut off other peoples' heads with butter-knives or with anything else, own the 'We're Bad Guys" franchise.

I also think the choice was odd from another aspect. Why show a scene of a happening that is at best speculative - the torturing of a terrorist by the Pakistani government. But then NOT show a scene that is certain - the beheading of an innocent journalist. If they were trying to be respectful of Pearl, they ended up making a movie in which the only act of violence that ends up on the screen, is by the good guys. We don't see any jihadist violence in A Mighty Heart. Where's the fairness doctrine when you really need it?

There are an awful lot of people running in and across the screen in A Mighty Heart, but few of them take on any real meaning for the audience. I took this frenzied whizzing by of actors to be the film maker's way of giving us Marianne's disoriented POV in the two weeks between her husband's abduction and his murder. But it really doesn't add anything to the project as entertainment.

Note here that entertainment doesn't always have to be fun. But it does always have to be entertaining. That is, it has to get and hold a viewer's attention. A Mighty Heart seemed to think that I would care about the mystery of how Al Quaeda snatched Daniel Pearl. I didn't care about that. I wanted help to fathom what Pearl's death means to me, and to all of us. The film makers didn't say anything about that. Either because they don't know, or because terrorism has worked its paralyzing black-magic on them.

Jolie's performance was solid, especially given the fact that the script gives her little to do but dial phones and stare at counter-terrorism agents. There was a really great performance by the guy who plays the head of the Pakistani police. Dan Futterman had too little screen time as Daniel Pearl to say much of anything about his performance.

What interest there was for me in the film came from the B-roll of life in Pakistan. The word "fetid" comes to mind. Watching the pans of over-crowded, ugly, Arab ghettos reminded me of my recent visits to the Palestinian areas of Israel. The best argument against Islam is the way it leads Muslims to live. How do they not see it?

But in the end, A Mighty Heart fails because of lack of point of view. I don't think you can make a movie about an atrocious evil and hold back on point of view. Everything in the humanity of the audience rebels against it. Pass.

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