Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Mighty Heart (2007)

Film: A Mighty Heart (2007)
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Will Patton, Alyy Khan, Archie Panjabi, Irrfan Khan
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Oscar History: Jolie nabbed Globe and SAG nominations, but was shockingly left out of the Oscar lineup.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Angelina Jolie is one of those actors that I have never found quite the right role for in my movie-watching love.  Jolie is certainly an actor that I'm aware of, and have seen many of her films.  She's a celebrity that I have had deep admiration for through the years, particularly in the way that she's used her fame to better the lives of people living in impoverished countries and on behalf of those who are victims of sexual violence.  And her beauty is, well, ethereal and kind of daunting.  However, her film output has never been something that I have really loved.  While there are some gaps left in my viewing (particularly her breakout trio of George Wallace, Gia, and Girl, Interrupted), her period as a major movie star has sort of left me cold.  She's got great presence, but her films are either action movies with little substance, overwrought dramas, or directorial efforts that feel too uncomplicated for a woman that's seen the many angles of the world like she has.  About the only film of hers that I cherish is Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a comedy which is hardly the genre one would consider her forte.  That being said, A Mighty Heart is one of those films that almost everyone universally admired her in, and she frequently made not only awards show lineups, but also critical lineups of the best performances of 2007.  As a result, I tried to go into the film, which on the surface looked like the sort of movie that I would normally steer clear of (biopics of recent events that were universally-covered by the media are not my cup of tea), with an open mind and an ever hopeful heart that this was the film that sealed the deal for me with Jolie.

(It was literally all over the news for a year, so if you need a spoiler alert you need to spend less time watching reality TV and more time reading a damn newspaper) The story of Daniel and Marianne Pearl (played by Futterman and Jolie, respectively) is one familiar to pretty much anyone who was paying attention to the War on Terror that occurred in the years following 9/11.  Mr. Pearl's kidnapping and eventual murder by the Taliban was widely-covered by the press, including statements from Secretary of State Colin Powell, and upon his death, from President George W. Bush.  As a result, though I had never read Ms. Pearl's memoir, I was curious as to what additional insights the characters and the writers would bring to hers and her husband's story.  It's one of the reasons I resist recent biopics-I go to the films to see new facets of characters, even if they are extremely well-known, and recent biopics where most of the people involved are still living are less likely to explore these individuals in interesting ways.

I left this film feeling that way about the entire ordeal.  The film feels a bit like a thriller, except of course that we know the ending of the movie.  The movie unfolds with the occasional flashbacks to Daniel and Marianne's life, but mostly it's just a serious of missteps as we watch Marianne and a team of government employees try to track through a terrorist network in hopes of finding Daniel before he dies.  The film in many ways has the same handicap that Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty experienced, where we know the ending, but Bigelow as a result spends less time on the minutia of what is actually happening and more time on the central figure in the movie, unknowable but slowly dying from her obsession.  Here, though, Winterbottom doesn't seem to want that luxury, frequently wanting to tell Daniel's story just as much as Marianne's.  It's a noble pursuit, but it makes the film drag, particularly when the plot continually repeats and we are treated to stories and news items that we are extremely familiar with; as a result, the movie is kind of dull when it should be riveting, and we're more mournful of the fact that we saw this transpire in real-life and know that there were true people behind Futterman and Jolie's characters, and less so because of what is happening onscreen.

As for Jolie, I still leave this movie waiting for that performance that makes me love her as an actress.  She is fine as Marianne, and her breakdown scenes late in the movie are indeed impressive.  I liked the way that she underplays most of the scenes, and her accent work is flawless.  However, I left this movie having very little understanding of Marianne Pearl-what was it that drove her career, what was it that drove her love for this man.  Too much of her life, even in the quietest of moments were spent inward and without projection, and unlike Jessica Chastain's Maya, we never get the sense that this is happening because of a self-preservation, but instead as something that feels dangerously close to a plot device for a script that doesn't want to stray from a very traditional narrative.  As a result, I'll head into Girl, Interrupted hopeful that I'll finally fall in love with one of the Aughts' most-celebrated movie stars.

Those are my thoughts on A Mighty Heart-anyone want to share theirs?  Do you have the same resistance to biopics of recent events?  And what is your favorite Angelina Jolie performance?  The comments are there for the taking!

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