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Monday, 8 October 2007

Review: A Mighty Heart

In many ways, A Mighty Heart, the Michael Winterbottom film about the abduction and brutal killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl, is the antidote to The Bourne films - in this case, an American is lost in the world of terror, espionage and multicultural clash, unable to assume another identity, or use force to escape a wrongful fate.

Winterbottom, a practiced and busy British director, has borrowed the Greengrass style and intent to dazzle with movement - here the camera jerks and stutters uneasily through the busy streets of Karachi, and zooms in on faces of drained, concerned Wall Street journalists, or a torture victim, with telescopic, grainy imperfection - the screen is a rapid eye movement of colour and cut - the film is mostly about seeing the Real - ironic, and apt, as the central action is left obscene, off-scene - the ritual slaughter of Pearl, simply because he "is American". Or, more accurately, Jewish, as Pearl's moving last words prove. Journalists no doubt appreciate the film's accurate depiction of their dangerous, lonely investigations in unwelcoming lands.

Others may find the film a strange mixture of undeniable personal anguish, set against an unclear backdrop of near-contemporary foreign policy and violence. As a story of a wife, stoic and noble, the success is immense - Angelina Jolie has never been better, and, risking the crass and obvious, this seems a sure bet for an Oscar nomination, even win, for Best Actress. Her sustained wail of horror and grief (borrowed from Bergman's Fanny & Alexander) is undeniably powerful. Will Patton, an under-rated character actor of great ability, is here the vaguely sleazy US Diplomat who seems to almost revel in the unfolding drama.

However, the other, bigger picture - the relationship between the West and its often "Orientalised" enemies - is muddily presented, as if there might be a danger that, in presenting too clear a through line, uncomfortable truths might emerge - uncomfortable for America and its allies.

There is a potent ambiguity in the dogged pursuit of the kidnappers by a ruthless secret policeman (The Captain played well by Irfan Khan) working for Pakistan's government. He and his men come across as effective, to say the least. The image of the tortured suspect, hanging from a chain like meat, is a homage to the greatest political film of all, The Battle of Algiers, but also a thorn in the side of any mere apologist for wars on terror - as such wars also use terror. For a film about trying to see the truth, this is an evasive, but compelling, portrait of what stays invisible, unseen, unsaid.
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