Running Time: 108 minutes
Rated: Rated M (moderate themes, moderate coarse language)
One of the highest profile foreign journalists abducted in recent years is Daniel Pearl who worked for the Wall St Journal. This tribute, memoir and picture of the investigation into his disappearance in 2002 is based on his wife's memoir and dedicated to his son, not yet born at the time of his death.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom (his In this World and Road to Guantanomo have already shown his credentials for work on films from this part of Asia) has directed the film, focusing strongly and at a rapid pace on the details of the search and tracking down of leads. This background to diplomacy as well as counterterrorism holds the interest. An extraordinary amount of effort went into the five weeks of search, utilising the resources of the US Consulate, the local Pakistani authorities and international intelligence offices. Pearl was abducted in Karachi after he and his wife had spent time reporting on Afghanistan, especially the bombing of the Taliban forces after the events of 11th September, 2001.
Dan Futterman (actor in The Birdcage and writer of the screenplay for Capote) portrays Daniel Pearl. The film has to make him a congenial character for the audience very quickly. He and his Frenchborn wife (who has Cuban background) are preparing to return to the US via Dubai. He takes up one more lead to get to speak with a Sheikh who allegedly can give information about the Afghan situation. He takes a taxi, waits outside the restaurant rendezvous and disappears. To strengthen the impact of his character and that he was a truthseeking journalist (and a mighty heart), there are flashbacks to his courtship and marriage.
There are re-enacted glimpses of the customary videos that kidnapping groups circulate showing their captives and getting them so speak propaganda.
While Daniel Pearl is central to the plot, the focus is on the mystery and the anxiety for his wife, Mariane. She is six months pregnant - and the screenplay inserts a flashback where they discuss the name for their baby, Daniel suggesting Adam, which the boy was eventually called.
Angelina Jolie plays the role of Mariane full throttle, accent and all. While Jolie is always a strong and commanding presence on screen, she is able to blend with the supporting cast and not dominate the film. When Pearl does not return from his meeting, she phones anxiously and soon the house is a nerve centre for the investigation. She appears on television and makes appeals to the abductors. She follows through for the weeks, relying also on some of her newspaper contacts.
When she finally (and suddenly) receives the news of Daniel's execution, she has a scene of grief, tears and cries that is very powerful. She also appears again on television where the interviewer insensitively questions whether she has watched the execution video. The film shows media people as victims of terrorism, but also has victims of the media pack who show little sensitivity as they rush and bully towards getting their story.
When she gathers together those who had worked so had to find Daniel, she makes a speech at the end which rightly focuses on all the victims of such abductions, Pakistanis as well as foreigners, as this 21st century phenomenon of war continues.
Paramount Opens 18th October
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.