Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Mighty Heart

Considering the premises of the film, that is, the inevitable tightrope that a director has to perform when selecting a story with so much of political and racist connotations, the film can be considered to be well-made. For the director does walk the tightrope. But when I further grope in my cinematic sensibilities and find nothing much that excited me, or that thrilled me, or that touched me, or that provoked me, I am condemned to shut up any further.

As I said, it's a film which balances itself well among people of different nationalities and beliefs. But that is all what the film does. Yes, you are delivered the message at the end, as usual, that we will not be terrorized - but then what was the previous 2 hours of film doing if a dialogue was to be inserted just to say that, while the rest of the film looked some kind of a damage-control exercise? A conclave of journalists and editors from all over the world, thrown in with intelligence men like Irrfan Khan or assortments off liasion people, just go on meeting together, tracking leads and keeping tabs of the latest emails and news in papers, drawing a map of involved people on a whiteboard - fine, great, reminded me of Mountbatten's red pins at the time of partition of India - but, that's not the story, the substance, right?

The film's most fundamental failure is the lack of a story. But this is not the only one - a poor direction and a poor understanding of nuances in another one. To talk of smaller but bigger matters first, why is Irrfan Khan made to act as if he is reporting to the whole cavalcade of editors of Western newspapers? At the most, he can be sympathetic and will do his duty - but why will he, a Pakistani national and SSP(CID), continously act in almost a subservient capacity to journalists, who don't even know the terrain, the country? Probably a doomed attempt to show the Westerners as superior against Indians and Pakistanis (for Archie Panjabi has nothing to do except sort the emails and track the leads - for that matter, there isn't anyone in the film who is doing any going anywhere). Angelina Jolie is completely disappointing - she is looking like a journalist to me, that's all - but it's completely beyond my comprehension that someone like her is even deemed to be an 'actress'. When the lead of a film does not hold your sympathy, then that's the first step where a film fails.

Now to talk of bigger things which seem also bigger, nonlinear editing seems to be the in thing nowadays, just as the wording "in thing" is, but it's better to keep it in wraps unless you (1) need it and (2) have the expertise for it. The Constant Gardener is the only truly great film made with a nonlinear editing technique - and there, the whole story is itself edited nonlinearly. Which is again something to be borne in mind - if you are telling a straight sequence of yarn, then 99 out of 100 you are better off if you narrate also straight. Of course, what I call as "nonlinear" in this film is not really so - the story is continuous, I am talking about the strange camera cuts used. It reminded me of the daily-running Hindi soaps - after something impactful (or even without it), the camera shows each one of the persons' reactions standing within the earshot - so a camera, instead of following the action in a straight sequence, becomes the register - that when something and something happened, what was happening to each person. (That's why I call it nonlinear - for the instantaneous reaction of all the people present to an event is simultaneous, and not like person C waits for person B to get amazed, person B for person A to get terrified, etc.) Even more deterioratingly, the film doesn't even have any impacts in between - so you just have a camera which has got a mind of its own, which keeps on swinging from one to another person without rhyme and reason, probably just to leave with the viewer that see, all these persons are involved in this, all these are thinking about Daniel Pearl and where is he, all these are really about their job.

In the final analysis, what the film was missing? Pain. And tension. Karachi. The sea of hate in which a Westerner would be living there - that doesn't come across. The struggle to survive in the fundamentalist heartland - that does not. And Marianne Pearl's pain - that does not.

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