September 12, 2007

"A Mighty Heart"

Here's my review for The American Conservative of the Angelina Jolie flick that got the critics all excited but died at the box office.

Thirty seconds into Angelina Jolie's explanatory voice-over that opens "A Mighty Heart," the critically-acclaimed film about the pregnant wife of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and beheaded by Muslim terrorists in Pakistan, the dozen corn-rowed young men sitting near me got up, put on their gang-colors jackets, and filed out of the theatre to go find something more entertaining to watch.

Who was right about "A Mighty Heart" -- the Critics or the Crips?

After Angelina Jolie first surfaced playing a lesbian junkie supermodel who dies of AIDS in 1998's "Gia," she stood out from Hollywood's fungible ranks of blonde and bland starlets by being dark and demented. After lurid years of soul-kissing her brother and wearing around her neck a vial of then-husband Billy Bob Thornton's blood, however, Jolie has been trying to recast herself as a globe-trotting humanitarian, a sexy Albert Schweitzer. Not surprisingly, she has brought the same demonic energy she once devoted to playing with knives to adopting orphaned children from different countries, resembling an obsessive Pokemon player who's gotta catch 'em all.

Jolie's first attempt to embody her newfound ideals in a film, her 2003 tribute to international relief workers, the romantic drama "Beyond Borders," was a respectful snore. Now, she's trying again in a much-acclaimed performance as the saintly Mariane Pearl, a French radio journalist whose bestselling memoir recounted her four heartbreaking weeks in 2002 trying to piece together clues to her husband's disappearance, until a video emerged of her husband's head being hacked off.

Ever since, her former father-in-law, UCLA professor Judea Pearl, has tirelessly promoted his son as the Anne Frank of the 21st Century, recruiting Bill Clinton for the Honorary Board of his Daniel Pearl Foundation that promotes "cross-cultural understanding." A competing film project based on the insufferable French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy's book Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, with Josh Lucas as the martyred reporter, has been announced, but Jolie's movie won the race to the screen.

Giving "A Mighty Heart" a bad review seems churlish, since the film is so factual that any harping might appear to reflect upon the poor widow. Nonetheless, the critics were wrong and the gangbangers right: this police procedural is one of the more futile films in memory.

Mrs. Pearl says, "To me, it's a story about Danny being held by extremely intolerant people. And yet we, in that house in Pakistan—Christian, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim—came together to find him."

But failed, badly. While we can admire the film's refusal to pretend that the Pakistani and American investigators ever came close to rescuing Daniel Pearl, its lack of suspense makes for a pointless 100 minutes.

And then there are the colorless characters. I still have no idea who the "Mighty Heart" of the film's title is supposed to be. Pearl appears to have been a nice guy and a dedicated professional who died bravely, but he never claimed to be an oversized personality. Newspapermen were once, according to "His Girl Friday," sozzled misanthropes too crude to remove their hats while pounding out copy on their Underwoods, but modern reporters, like Mr. and Mrs. Pearl, tend to be sober and self-effacing. Indeed, this murder mystery isn't much interested in the victim, as illustrated by the casting of the obscure Dan Futterman opposite Jolie.

The film's focus on Mariane Pearl might suggest she's the mighty heart. Yet, the emotionally restrained Mrs. Pearl, who meditates in front of her personal Buddhist shrine to maintain her inner harmony during her ordeal, doesn't make much of an impression either. She's too culturally sensitive to vent her wrath against the men who slaughtered her husband.

Although widely praised for not chewing the scenery, Jolie, who studied Method acting and won her Oscar for playing a sociopath mental patient in "Girl, Interrupted," lacks the theatrical training that Helen Mirren used to subtly delineate an undemonstrative character in "The Queen." So, we're left with plenty of time to admire the elegant curve of Jolie's profile from her eyebrows down to the tip of her nose.

Nor does the movie teach you much. Pakistan is an astonishingly complex and potentially crucial country, but the filmmakers are so loathe to stereotype that all we learn about the place is that it's really crowded.

Ultimately, the tedium of "A Mighty Heart" is due to the devotion of all involved to the modern religion of non-judgmentalism.

Rated R solely for language. The beheading is not portrayed on film.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Daniel Pearl affair smells. Why did that neocon bible the WSJ send an ex-IDF, dual passport holding Jew into one of the most bloodthirstily fundamentalist Muslim areas on earth? Did Danny hope that smiling sweet smiles and talking like Rodney King would save his neck?

Does the French neoconnish Jew BHL tackle the possibility that Pearl was working for Mossad? Foreign corrs doubling as agents is nothing new-- least of all in the land of the Great Game, where every gentleman from the London Times would send reports to the Foreign Office.

Svigor said...

They release competing versions about Pearl, but they've yet to make a single Gulag flick.

Guess that goes to show priorities...

daveg said...

The problem with having such close ties to another country is that it will open up this type of speculation - every time.

This was not just another Joe from Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

A good review, except for the cheap shot at Pearl's father and Anne Frank. Were you throwing a bone out for your WN fans?

Anonymous said...

"Why did that neocon bible the WSJ send an ex-IDF, dual passport holding Jew"

Ex-IDF? Dual Passports? I've never heard that. Do you have any citations to back up these claims?

Nice show of empathy all around guys, btw.

Anonymous said...

"The problem with having such close ties to another country is that it will open up this type of speculation - every time."

This sort of "speculation" pre-dates the modern state of Israel and doesn't require "such close ties" to another country. See, for example, the Dreyfus Affair, where a French Jew was falsely accused of spying for Germany.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the part about the 6 black gangsters getting up and leaving. Imagine these clowns throwing popcorn and yelling at the screen,and some pimply usher assigned to shut them up. :0 Riiiiight! What did they go to see? The Bergmann retrospective?

Ross said...

I didn't realise until the first three comments that Daniel Pearl was the target of paranoid conspiracy mongers. You learn something new everyday.

Muswell Hillbilly said...

If espionage had anything to do with his kidnapping/death, why wouldn't they have just killed him quietly instead of going through this elaborate, showy beheading that made Pakistan look like it couldn't control its own territory?

People complain about being called antisemites whenever they raise criticisms of Israel/jews, but the substance of their theories is often such silly, illogical bunk that an irrational fixation on the jews is simplest explanation.

Steve Sailer said...

Daniel Pearl being Jewish has been a major obsession of just about everyone involved with the story -- the terrorists, both sets of filmmakers, Bernard Henri-Levi, and Pearl's Israel-born father who has been promoting him as the Anne Frank of the 21st Century. The one exception was largely poor Danny Pearl himself, who was a good professional reporter just trying to do his job as best he could.

SN said...

I get the impression Pearl was a bit naive and didn't appreciate the extent to which being Jewish made him an object of hatred and a target. Liberal Jews often seem naive about the extent to which Muslims want to kill them.

Anonymous said...

Steve, it's downright weird to conflate the murderers' "obsession" with Pearl being Jewish with everyone else's in the wake of his murder.

After all, the killers made him say "I'm a Jew" on camera before they cut his head off. Clearly, his being Jewish was a significant motive in the murder.

Anonymous said...

Okay, you're right to censor my comment, Steve. Pearl's murderers didn't make him say "I'm a Jew" on camera before they killed him. It was just my lying that eyes that convinced me they did.

Anonymous said...

I’ve seen this disconnect between critical adulation and man on the street opinions over various films before. The gap goes both ways and yawns widest when the topic or people involved are dealing with particularly highly-charged issues:

HOMOSEXUALITY (e.g. The Crying Game, Brokeback Mountain, Philadelphia, Hairspray, Kiss of the Spider Woman)

NAZI/HOLOCAUST (e.g. Max, Triumph of the Spirit, Sophie’s Choice, A Mighty Heart?)

UN-PC PRO-WEST/CHRISTIANITY (e.g. Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto)

HIGH ART FOR THE MASSES (e.g. Bridges of Madison County, Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa)

OSCAR PAYBACK/STATEMENT: (e.g. Good as it Gets (Nicholson), Color of Money (Newman), On Golden Pond (Fonda))

That’s not to say critics picks are always absolute crap, just significantly overrated. Big budget films often have all the goods money can buy (star power, cinematography, sets, sound, etc) but fail to rise to the challenge. Films dealing with homosexuality are most prone to distorted reviews in my experience - recalibrate expectations accordingly.

- JAN

Svigor said...

Have to be a paranoid conspiracy-monger to notice Hollywood's Bizarro-world priorities and political agenda?

Svigor said...

People complain about being called antisemites whenever they raise criticisms of Israel/jews, but the substance of their theories is often such silly, illogical bunk that an irrational fixation on the jews is simplest explanation.

Let's see if I can condense the "logic" here:

Some criticism of Jews is loony, ergo all criticism of jews is loony.

Do I have that right?

Glaivester said...

Okay, you're right to censor my comment, Steve.

["censored" comment appearing right before post containing this statement]

anon, Steve moderates comments in such a way that he must approve all comments before they appear. If he is away from his computer for a while, it will take a while for any new comments to appear. This is almost certainly what happened.

Anonymous said...

Yes, glaivester, I realize that now and am appropriately embarrassed.

daveg said...

This sort of "speculation" pre-dates the modern state of Israel and doesn't require "such close ties" to another country. See, for example, the Dreyfus Affair, where a French Jew was falsely accused of spying for Germany.

I love when people bring up 150 year old examples, or even 500 year old examples like spain.

If this is the worst that took place in 1000 years of history I would say this history is pretty good actually.

Look what Israel has done to its minority population in about 60 years. They have had 3 million people in effective captivity for 40 years!

And let's just ignore the actual examples of Jews actually spying for another nation, like the Rosenbergs, right?

It is all just parinoia.