Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Mighty Heart: The Search for Daniel Pearl

I read Joe Morgenstern’s review of the new film, “A Mighty Heart,” in the Wall Street Journal and decided to give it a try. I’d already seen the documentary about the kidnapping of journalist Daniel Pearl compiled by CNN News: “The Journalist and the Jihadi.”

That documentary, narrated by Christiane Amanpour, is worthy of some praise. Amanpour lends some credibility to the reportage. Is there a world trouble spot Amanpour hasn’t visited?

Hearing that Angelina Jolie was playing the starring part of Mariane Pearl worried me a little owing to my inherent mistrust of Hollywood treatments. Many will agree with me that the “star” factor can wreak havoc upon facts and sensibilities.

I need not have worried. After about two frames of the film, the “big Hollywood star” completely vanished into the character of Daniel Pearl’s pregnant journalist wife. Marianne Pearl is an attractive woman. Angelina Jolie is attractive, too--it’s a wash. The whole thing works especially well since Jolie is so convincing in the role that you don’t have to think about it.

As most people know, Daniel Pearl was a Wall Street Journal reporter who was beheaded by Islamic terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan. He disappeared in the teeming Pakistani city in January of 2002 after leaving word with his wife that he was setting off for an interview with a leading Islamic cleric. “A Mighty Heart” is the title of a book written by Marianne Pearl about her husband’s disappearance and the search by various Pakistani and American law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The film is a fast paced ride through the stratified neighborhoods and slums of Karachi.
Director Michael Winterbottom presents an absorbing collage of Karachi’s streets, sometimes in flood, a place where modernity collides with wooden carts, a place where goats, chickens, and other livestock are crammed into streets choked with cars, motorbikes, and people crossing the screen aimlessly and with reckless abandon.

The film should have great appeal with geo-political types as well as those who enjoy a fast-paced police drama. Irfann Khan is a stand-out as a Pakistani police captain directing his men in the streets of Karachi in a relentless, fast-as-lightning, no-holds-barred counterattack . The role requires an admirable delicacy and refinement as well as an action hero in the Bruce Willis mode.

The success of movies about real life events depends upon the suppression of gimmicky theatrics, mawkish sentiments, and overacted hyperventilated role-playing. To the degree possible, given the time compression of film, the truth should be the script and the story should be the star. Mariane Pearl has a primal meltdown in one scene but she summons the strength quickly to carry herself back into the world and the circumstances she needs to confront.

Though “A Mighty Heart” is a good film, I don’t very much like looking at it in purely artistic terms. For whatever inexplicable reason one stranger in the world connects with another complete stranger, I felt very sad at the sadistic murder of Daniel Pearl. I was disturbed enough by Daniel Pearl’s murder to write something about it a while back on a website:

I’ve read Daniel’s book called “At Home in the World”. I’d like to read Mariane’s book and the book written by Daniel’s parents called “I Am Jewish- Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl.”

Daniel Pearl’s book is a compilation of his writings about the places in the world he reported stories. The stories are interesting, to be sure, but they also reflect the intelligence, universality, and humanity of the man. I am particularly angry at the virulent inhuman hatred which is willing to make a ritual of a sadistic, cold-blooded murder. Were his murderers the decadent and criminal spawn of men like Adolph Hitler?

Four of the kidnappers are locked up in Pakistani prisons, with one sentenced to hang. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, a planner of the 9-11 attacks, is a major reason for the foul odor of Guantanamo prison.

I think Guantanamo should be kept open. It is my human failing to have no sympathy for Daniel Pearl’s kidnappers, nor for Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, nor for any of the Al Quaeda types sequestered there. True sympathy was parceled out to humanity in small doses. I’m saving mine for the real victims.

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