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Premieres & Events

Mighty Heart, Sealed Lips

By S.T. VanAirsdale

The Reeler stopped by the Ziegfeld Wednesday night to see what there was to see at the premiere of A Mighty Heart, the Michael Winterbottom adaptation of Mariane Pearl's book about her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and her quest to find him after his kidnapping in 2002. The tragedy that ensued -- Daniel was beheaded on videotape, leaving six-months-pregnant Mariane a widow -- has entered post-9/11 folklore as the symbol of danger faced by journalists reporting from new and plentiful combat zones around the world. It's not all Jennifer Connelly in Blood Diamond or Connie Nielsen in The Situation or even the gang in Winterbottom's 1997 war-reporter opus Welcome to Sarajevo; it's Danny Pearl and Anna Politkovskaya and Jill Carroll (a lucky survivor) and more than 200 other reporters who have perished on the job in the last five years.


High and Mighty: Michael Winterbottom and Angelina Jolie at Wednesday's premiere of A Mighty Heart (Photo: STV)

Which didn't quite matter to the red-carpet press corps in Midtown, engaged as it was in fashion policing (OMIGOD, did you hear Jolie's dress was $26 ?!?) and any second-hand stardust it could glean from the film's supporting cast. Denis O'Hare, who plays Pearl's WSJ editor John Bussey, was overheard recounting Maddox Jolie's set visits, while co-star Archie Panjabi was grilled about her scenes with Jolie, what was it like, etc. Jesus Christ. Sandwiched between wire service photographers and B-list camera crews, I envisioned our own press massacre, publicists agape with joy and horror, wondering how they'd spin this one, the next day's tabloids riven with 200-point type ("Q&AAAAAH!!!," the Post would scream) about the indignity of their stringers' demises and iconic Daily News shutterbug Richard Corkery emerging unscathed with a roll of combat photos he'd brandish on Larry King Live before leaving early for another carpet packed with fresh bodies and Kevlar tape recorders.

Snapping to, I reread an event co-sponsor's logo once more: Reporters Without Borders: For Press Freedom. The irony wasn't lost on me -- or even Sharon Waxman, who notes today in an unusually readable, even essential piece in The Times that my colleagues' and my inabilities to score interviews with Jolie was contractual -- not that we expected her or baby- and film-producing partner Brad Pitt to stop for us anyway. I mean, Roger Friedman is outraged, but let's be honest: The two were great with fans, which is as it should be in a hard choice between, say, pigeons and vultures. Winterbottom waited at the end of the carpet for 45 minutes with a Pepsi in hand; he's a notorious press-o-phobe, here perhaps because of the moral inconsistency of authentic torture depictions in his doc The Road to Guantanamo (shackles bad) and A Mighty Heart (shackles necessary), about whose complexity I had every intention of inquiring. Neither Mariane Pearl nor Dan Futterman, who portrays Danny Pearl, were in attendance. Alas.

As for the film, it's not half-bad. I liked Jolie fine; she did her homework as Mariane and channels a genuine, tough vulnerability. In his final act, Winterbottom traps her in more histrionics than she deserves, but the crispness of the procedural -- particularly O'Hare's by-the-book editor and Irrfan Khan's haunted police captain -- overlaid with its propulsive, popcorn-movie intrigue makes it a commendable-enough entry in the journalism film canon. It falters most egregiously in its earnestness; Winterbottom and screenwriter John Orloff exploit the Pearls' happy-time flashbacks as one might beat dust from a rug. Or, more specifically, a red carpet.

Posted at June 15, 2007 8:26 AM

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