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“A Mighty Heart”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “A Mighty Heart,” Paramount Vantage, 2007]

“A Mighty Heart”‘s opening titles alternate black words on a white background with white words on a black background. Black and white obviously imply opposites; their juxtaposition with white on black suggests something further. From either side of the divide, each faction sees itself as wholly in the right and the other as wholly in the wrong, not unlike how the United States views Islamic terrorists and vice versa.

This is the sort of political landscape in which Michael Winterbottom’s new film is set and in which Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl worked. Pearl (played in the film by Dan Futterman) was in Karachi, Pakistan investigating a lead on a story about shoe bomber Richard Reid when he was kidnapped, held hostage and ultimately murdered. Though his captors claimed Pearl was a spy working for the CIA and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Pearl was guilty only of a determination to uncover the truth past the point others might stop out of concern for their own safety.

“A Mighty Heart” never represents Pearl’s captivity, and only includes the briefest and most discrete excerpt of a recreation of the infamous video of the journalist’s murder. Instead, the film follows Daniel’s wife Mariane, played in the film by Angelina Jolie, as she struggles with her husband’s disappearance and, later, his death. Her perspective is one of waiting and hoping, and also of investigating, as officials from both the United States and Pakistan relentlessly scour Karachi for any trace of Daniel.

Despite the fact that anyone who pays even a whiff of attention to current events knows the outcome of the film’s story before they step foot in the theater, “A Mighty Heart” plays like a breathless thriller. Winterbottom digs into the smallest details of Daniel’s search, from shaking down informants to building suspect charts. Though he’s working with a big name movie star, his preferred style here, as in many of his films, is quick and dirty: DV cameras, non-professional actors and real locations. Even the acting is low-key; the dialogue is peppered with pauses and other traces of the heavy improvisation that went into making the film. It’s hard to remember at times not only that this is not a documentary, but that the outcome is already predetermined — you become so invested in Mariane’s journey that you find yourself hoping and praying for Daniel’s safe return right alongside her. Given Jolie’s famous looks and lips, it’s remarkable how invisible she becomes in the lightly-accented, heavily hair-curled role.

Though “A Mighty Heart” is never less than utterly engrossing, Winterbottom wouldn’t be Winterbottom if he didn’t also include plenty of moral and ethical questions. After all, the heroes of this story include men like American Randall Bennett (Will Patton) and a Pakistani referred to only as “The Captain” (Irfan Khan) who, in the interest of saving a man they can only assume is being brutally tortured, resort to torturing suspects themselves to more quickly obtain information. When one lead results in a dead-end, the Captain decides to try a different tactic. “We will fight kidnappers with kidnapping,” he says.

Though both Bennett and the Captain remain nothing less than entirely supportive to and sympathetic of Mariane, they do things when she is not around that she would probably be hard-pressed to rationalize or approve of. Winterbottom — who has questioned the morality of torture before in “The Road to Guantanamo” — dramatizes this divide by occasionally flashing to news clips of the detainees in Gitmo and by refusing to sugar coat or shy away from the Captain’s and Bennett’s actions. Winterbottom seems to remain neutral on the issue beyond its representation, though one could argue that “A Mighty Heart”‘s inevitable conclusion is a doubly effective statement against torture of any and all kinds.

Still, this is not a story about what went wrong, or what could have been done differently. Nor is it really about the terrible effect of a tragedy, because the real-life Mariane has refused to allow herself to sink to the level of her husband’s killers, or to allow herself to become embittered by the sadness she has endured. Rather, the story’s ultimate message is one of survival and hope, and Winterbottom portrays this as he does all of “A Mighty Heart”‘s themes, simply, and effectively, and, in a strange way, beautifully.

“A Mighty Heart” opens in limited release on June 22nd (official site).

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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