starring Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Irrfan Khan, Archie Panjabi
screenplay by John Orloff, based on the book by Mariane Pearl
directed by Michael Winterbottom
by Walter Chaw An avowed Michael Winterbottom fan, I think he's amazing even when he fails. I marvel at his Thomas Hardy adaptations--the devastating Jude and the redemptive The Claim (his take on The Mayor of Casterbridge)--and I hadn't thought, before I actually saw him do it, that anyone but Charlie Kaufman would have a shot at turning Tristram Shandy into a viable film. When the extremely prolific Winterbottom decided to explore how music and sex evolve sympathetically in culture, he turned out a little unofficial trilogy (24 Hour Party People, Code 46, 9 Songs) in the span of two years. And now that he's become politicized--something he would say he always was, with 1997's vérité Welcome to Sarajevo as evidence--he's turned out, in the same span, In This World, The Road to Guantanamo, and now A Mighty Heart. This is the story of Mariane Pearl, widow of WALL STREET JOURNAL reporter Daniel Pearl, who was infamously beheaded while covering Al-Qaeda in Pakistan in the early days leading up to our current boondoggle. As that fan of Winterbottom's, I'm inclined to give the picture a benefit of a doubt I nevertheless wonder if it deserves. First run through my head, A Mighty Heart strikes me as pointless and unsurprising; Winterbottom is of course a better anthropologist than he is a political philosopher: if he's trying to apply Donald Symons's models of cultural evolution to ethics instead of more immediately compatible pursuits (music, or literature), then what's emerged from the experiment is the revelation that ethics and morality appear to have nothing to do with the base nature of man--and, moreover, that Angelina Jolie will never be Nicole Kidman in her ability to be both herself and someone else.