One From the ‘Heart’

It was the camera shot heard 'round the world — a concord of angst and anomie released in a scripted scream so terrifying it empties the empyrean angels of their seats to the right side of God.

Certainly, God is in the heavens, but not all is right with the world.

That scream is the atonal atrophy of Mariane Pearl's heart as she learns her husband, Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl, has been killed and beheaded by terrorists while he seeks out a headline-horror story of who was at the heel of "shoe bomber" Richard Reid's attempt to reclaim history for the heinous.

It was a story that packed a lot of anger and fear as its 2002 Pakistan dateline deployed the total muddle that is the Mideast, where scum terrorists scrum for attention, and attack any moral fiber still left unstrung in the region.

But it is that unstrung scream — scarily scraping the soul — that makes a film-goer look away from the screen, as if avoidance can avert the pain promised to come in the mighty heartache that attends "A Mighty Heart," the Oscar-caliber work based on Mariane Pearl's tome of torn times opening this Friday.

As director, award-winning Michael Winterbottom has gotten to the bottom of a mighty hard story to distill, since true love and loss seem predestined to lose their passion and pining when filtered from heart to film.

Not in this case.

And that haunting, heart-rending rape of a scream by actress Angelina Jolie's Mariane as woman interrupted from her everyday hopes … only a director who has scoured the scars of senseless acts can elicit a howl of horror such as that.

Winterbottom demurs. Certainly, the heart is a lonely hunter — and he has tracked its travels in an acclaimed career intercutting documentaries and fiction filled with politics and pathos ("Welcome to Sarajevo," "The Road to Guantánamo," "In This World") — but he was not alone in helping that hijacked hurt hurl from the screen. Far from it, he says, as he credits Jolie for the jeremiad, the wall of wail that separates Mariane's personal pain from the empathy of others.

Jolie was primed for the primal outburst by her friendship with the author/ journalist, as well as by an innate understanding of loss and lament, he says.

But then, directing that dirge of a scream surely shared by any one who has lost a loved one to senselessness and insensitivity did not come without research.

"I talked about it with Angelina and Brad [Pitt]," her partner and the film's producer, "and with the other [real-life] main characters who were there at the time Mariane found out about Daniel's death," explains Winterbottom. "They all said it was amazing how strong she was, how she never showed emotion" following his kidnapping.

Until then, "that moment," when "an incredible outpouring of grief and pain [was released]; they had not realized how much she had held back."

Jolie doesn't hold back in her portrayal, gritty and graceful, as the expectant mother Mariane deals with the pregnant pause that is the uncertainty as to Daniel's fate in Karachi, Pakistan.

The book, as the film, packs a punch about the below-the-belt pummeling the truly righteous can receive for their efforts.

"The book was powerful in two ways," weighs in the director. "It showed Mariane's strength, her refusal to play any charade. And how she refused to give in to hatred."

Certainly, hatred has its own "rewards" for the terrorists who absconded the Jewish journalist from The Wall Street Journal and made headlines around the world for their cause. Pearl's Jewishness has its own role to play, described and delineated on screen, but it is not the film's focus as the foment bubbling in the region boils over on its own.

"My intention was to show that he would never hide it," says the director of Pearl's Jewishness.

Pearl was proudly Jewish, but that germanity is an onscreen subhead to the journalistic genes that push him to uncover the terrorism tearing at the world. And while many reports have referred to Daniel Pearl as a Jewish journalist, he seemingly was more a journalist who was Jewish.

Not to say that prevented his captors from releasing a post-mortem video of their prey as "The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl."

But it is the street theater — the powerless Pakistan officials pounding the pavements to uproot a fate that seems already cemented — that plays out so brilliantly, blind alleys and blood-stained roads intersecting at dead ends used by the terrorists to justify their mien and their terrible and tortuous take on justice.

Indeed, the perils of Pearl are portrayed pristinely on screen as a Mideast murder mystery — with myriad mistakes and missed opportunities — unlike any other.

It is the sense of Pearl (played in the film by Dan Futterman) as eternal outsider — or any journalist, Jewish or not, for that matter — trying to jimmy open the logjam of facts overlain by fiction in the region that affords the film a chiller of a patina. It is cop-and-robbers sheik without being chic, with the bad guys not only robbing the graves but desecrating them, too.

Somehow, it's hardly a surprise that Thomas Hardy, English author as outsider, is the Brit-born Winterbottom's top pick as favorite writer over the years: Daniel Pearl as Jew, the obscure turned into accidental icon by another's hideous hatred?

More than anything, says the director, "the film is about two journalists," he says of the Pearls. "The idea was to be in the same spirit of how they worked, how honest were their lives, filled with integrity."


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