Urban Cinefile
"One of the golden things about being the director was that I didn't have to worry about how hard it was to do some of the things. "  -Brad Bird, writer/director, The Incredibles on his naïve wishes in preproduction
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



The Wall Street Journal's Daniel (Dan Futterman) and his pregnant journalist wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie) are in Karachi where Danny is researching a story on shoe bomber Richard Reid. Promised an exclusive interview with a crucial source through an intermediary, Danny takes a taxi to the rendezvous restaurant, but doesn't return. It's soon evident he's been kidnapped. With help from local and US authorities, Mariane is at the centre of a desperate search for Danny and the hunt for his kidnappers, a small extremist group making demands that will not be met.

Review by Louise Keller:
There's a compelling urgency about this highly political film that tells the true story of the brutal and senseless murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl. Based on his widow Mariane's memoirs, Michael Winterbottom has created a riveting portrait of a brave and compassionate woman that allows us to feel as though we have partaken of her journey. Angelina Jolie is stunning, giving a hauntingly affecting performance as Mariane Pearl, who was 5 months pregnant at the time of her husband's disappearance in Karachi, while pursuing the source for his story on terrorism. It's an extraordinary portrayal and Jolie captures every nuance - from Mariane's soft French accent to her quiet sense of determination and restraint as we track the events during the 5 weeks after Daniel's disappearance.

With its improvised dialogue (much of which is unrehearsed) and hand-held camera, the film is documentary-like in the way it is shot, presented and edited with real-life footage and dramatic flash-backs. Dan Futterman, who penned the screenplay for Capote, effectively portrays Daniel Pearl, loving husband and professional journalist, and makes a profound impact while on screen. There's a great sense of place and the scenes in Karachi with its chaotic streets, poverty, aimlessly wandering cattle and frenzied bustle ring true on every level. Tension builds when Pearl fails to return after his 7pm meeting, and that's when the waiting begins. Emails, telephone tag, working with agencies, security agents and coping with the media frenzy become par for the course as does keeping calm every time the phone rings.

The investigation process as phone and computer records are pursued is fascinating and tempers are tested as circumstances increase in their intensity. There's real pain and anguish when the shocking news is finally brought to light, and it is impossible to forget Mariane's screams of pain as she tries to come to terms with her husband's brutal death. In this fast-changing world where terrorism is a fact of life, this is a pertinent tale and one that is overtly moving. The grace and courage of Mariane Pearl, as she thanks those who worked tirelessly to discover the truth, is a testament to the gentle optimism of the woman, who reminds us that terror cannot take hold, if we do not allow it to do so.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Somewhere between re-enactment and dramatisation, Michael Winterbottom's searing adaptation of Mariane Pearl's heartbreaking yet empowering account of Danny Pearl's abduction and eventual beheading in January/February 2003 makes for bracing viewing. So soon after the event, it has immediacy and impact, dealing with the hottest topic in global affairs today: the terrorists of Islam. What distinguishes the film - and especially Angelina Jolie's astonishing, credible and moving performance - is the absence of hate in the tone of the film. Angry films generate a certain energy, but Winterbottom has sublimated any anger he must have felt into the positive and healing power of dignity.

Made with small video cameras to enable effective street footage in Karachi, the film fully conveys the sense of chaos, danger, uncertainty and desperation that attended the events in real life. To that extent, the film is a faithful re-enactment, we must believe (considering Mariane's co-operation); but Winterbottom weaves the film together with images of Danny and Mariane in happier times, and he moves back and forth in time. Sometimes these movements (and the ferocious hand held camera work) destabilise us and sequences unravel with no discernible focus.

But at the centre is Jolie's utterly convincing performance, complete with a beautifully judged, gentler French accent. Irfan Khan as Pakistani anti terror boss, and Will Patton as his US counterpart, Bennett, also stand out in a cast whose veracity is never in question. The smallest roles are performed to perfection and the genuine locations add to the film's gritty realism. For all its sombre content, we are left with a sense of the positive humanity that Mariane and her family exude. This utterly defeats the intentions of the terrorists.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US/UK, 2007)

CAST: Dan Futterman, Angelina Jolie, Will Patton, Archie Panjabi, Mohammed Afzal, Mushtag Khan, Daud Khan, Telal Saeed, Arif Khan, Tipu Taheer, Perinne Moran, Jeffry Kaplow

PRODUCER: Andrew Eaton, Dede Gardner, Brad Pitt

DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom

SCRIPT: John Orloff (book by Mariane Pearl)


EDITOR: Peter Christelis

MUSIC: Harry Escott, Molly Nyman


RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 18, 2007

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2021