Playing the wife of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was no ordinary job for Angelina Jolie, finds Paul Dale
Angelina Jolie, one of Hollywood’s favourite tabloid cover girls, can soon be seen in the one film that may ensure her cinematic legacy. Better known for her public spats with father Jon Voight, her relationship with Brad Pitt (for which they have been awarded the joint moniker ‘Brangelina’) and her obsessive quest to gather a brood around her that would challenge even Josephine Baker’s ‘Rainbow Tribe’, than for her, at times, badly advised filmography (anyone seen Lara Croft: Cradle of Life, Taking Lives or Alexander recently?), Jolie seems to have finally made the decision to appear in a film she genuinely cares about.
That film is A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom’s powerful political thriller based on Mariane Pearl’s detailed memoir of the search for her husband - Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl - who was kidnapped in 2002 in Karachi, Pakistan. Pearl had been researching Islamic militancy, and, several weeks after his kidnap, was murdered by supporters of former al-Qaeda member Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (who, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, was ‘the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks’). A videotape of Pearl’s murder was released.
Having Mariane (played by Jolie) central to the film, Winterbottom and screenwriter John Orloff focus not only on her initial unstinting, panicked search for her husband but also on the sometimes cursory efforts made by Department of Justice and Diplomatic Security Service special agents to track down the kidnappers and bring them to justice.
It’s a heartbreaking and vital portrait of post-9/11 hysteria and realities depicted in the pared down, neo-realist style we have come to expect from the prolific Winterbottom, the director of The Claim, 24 Hour Party People, In This World, Code 46 and The Road to Guantanamo, among others.
For her part, Jolie dominates the role of Pearl, who is a practising Buddhist, with a rare passion. Speaking at a press conference in Cannes, she dismissed accusations that this was simply a vanity project by explaining her connection with the source.
She said: ‘I’d read her book. I admired her from afar and I cared very much about her and her story. Many people forget that Mariane was five-to-seven months pregnant throughout this experience and when we were doing pre-production I was [at the same stage in my pregnancy] and I remember thinking, “I can’t imagine not having the father with me at this time,” and on top of that being concerned about his life.’
In America, the film has been criticised for the casting of Jolie, a European-American actress, as Mariane Pearl, who is part African. Critics see it as a cynical attempt to cash in on Jolie’s box office appeal. But the debate will do the film little harm.
For Jolie, the point of the film is to tell the remarkable story of an extraordinary family. She says: ‘Every different faith was represented in that house [Mariane is a Buddhist, Daniel was Jewish]. It was very interesting to have these people of different faiths coming together with friendship and concern and dialogue and all that that symbolises.’
A Mighty Heart is at EIFF on 18 & 19 Aug and on general release from Fri 21 Sep