Tag Archives: Michael Winterbottom

A MIGHTY HEART – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

hero_EB20070621REVIEWS70621002AR

Ever since Angelina Jolie won an Academy Award for her memorable role in Girl, Interrupted (1999), she has gradually gotten further and further away from the kinds of roles that won her that coveted accolade in the first place. And so it was with some anticipation that she would be returning to more challenging, interesting work with A Might Heart (2007), an adaptation of the memoir by Mariane Pearl about the kidnapping and death of her husband, journalist Daniel Pearl. Of course, there were the usual fears that this would merely be a vanity project for Jolie – a desperate attempt to reclaim Oscar glory yet again. However, the wild card thrown into the mix was the presence of British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom. He has the reputation of being something of a maverick, adept at all kinds of genres, be they literary adaptations (The Claim), period pieces (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story), biopics (24 Hour Party People) or politically-charged docu-dramas (The Road to Guantanamo). However, he also has the habit of turning them on their head in a way that polarizes critics and audiences. If anyone could get Jolie to shed her movie star persona it would be him.

The film is set in Pakistan as Daniel (Dan Futterman) is doing a story on the Taliban for the Wall Street Journal. One day, he goes off to interview a religious leader and never comes back. When he doesn’t return later that night, Mariane (Angelina Jolie) checks his email and tries to track down his contacts but with no success. The next day he is still missing and she starts calling anybody she can think of, eventually bringing in the local police. The film becomes an intense, Michael Mann-esque police procedural as local law enforcement, led by Captain (Irrfan Khan), turn the city upside down questioning anyone connected with Daniel or who helped set up the interview he was going to.

The Department of Justice and Diplomatic Security Service special agents are called in and a representative by the name of Randall Bennett (Will Patton) meets with Mariane in order to get her side of the story. She is also a journalist and does her own digging into the case. In a few days, she receives an email from the kidnappers who claim that Daniel is a CIA agent posing as a journalist while the local newspapers claim that he’s a Mossad agent just because he also happens to be Jewish. Mariane finds herself drowning in the political quagmire that is Pakistan as the authorities question Daniel’s methods and motivations.

Angelina Jolie does an excellent job as a woman barely keeping it together in the face of such uncertainty, not knowing if she will ever get to see her husband alive again while also dealing with being pregnant on top of everything else. She wisely underplays the role, resisting the urge to come on too strong by being showy and instead immersing herself in the part. Winterbottom helps her out, like in one scene where Mariane allows herself a moment to let it all out and break down. He refuses to go for the easy money shot close-up of Jolie’s teary, anguished face and instead opts for a long shot, letting her body language speak volumes about how she’s feeling.

Winterbottom’s hand-held camera careens through the crowded, claustrophobic streets of Karachi much like in the opening scenes of The Insider (1999) when Al Pacino’s character meets with the leader of the Hezbollah. Winterbottom creates an immediate, immersive experience as the sights and sounds of the city are everywhere. He also keeps everything grounded in reality with minimal use of music because of its ability to easily manipulate our emotions. A Mighty Heart feels like a personal project for Jolie but never seems like a vanity project because one never feels like she is grandstanding but rather is passionate about the subject matter and doing justice to it.

PTS Presents Cinematographer’s Corner with ALWIN KUCHLER

KUCHLER POWEEERRR

Barclays' Commercial: Behind the ScenesShot on Pearl Street and Hanover
Barclays’ Commercial: Behind the ScenesShot on Pearl Street and Hanover

Podcasting Them Softly is excited to present a chat with cinematographer Alwin Kuchler, who has the highly anticipated new film Steve Jobs, from director Danny Boyle, hitting screens this weekend! Kuchler also worked with Boyle on their underrated science fiction thriller Sunshine, as well as having multiple collaborations under his belt with filmmakers as diverse as Michael Winterbottom (Code 46, The Claim), Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher), and Kevin Macdonald (the documentaries Marley and One Day in September). He also shot the incredible action thriller Hanna for director Joe Wright, and worked on PTS favorite Solitary Man, from filmmakers Brian Koppleman and David Levien, which stars Michael Douglas in one of his career defining roles. Kuchler‘s work has spanned various genres and he always brings an extremely stylish eye to all of his efforts. We hope you enjoy our latest addition to the PTS Cinematographer’s Corner!

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM’S THE CLAIM — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

1

I’m a huge admirer of the filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, and his wildly underrated effort from 2000, The Claim, is a hugely impressive piece of work that’s begging for reconsideration and an upgrade to the Blu-ray format Alwin Kuchler’s muscular and expansive 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography painted a forbidding canvass of mountain life circa 1867, with the intelligent and morally ambiguous screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce (loosely based on the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy) borrowing shades from Altman’s masterpiece McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Michael Nyman’s score is blustery when called for, and subtle most everywhere else, contributing greatly to the epic sweep of Kuchler’s full-bodied images. Winterbottom has always struck me as the British version of Steven Soderbergh, a restless talent interested in exploring every possible genre, refusing to be pigeonholed, always bursting with vitality and style and smarts. Peter Mullan is, as usual, fantastic as the strong willed ruler of Kingdom Come, the Northern California town that was crafted entirely for the film, only to be totally destroyed during the fiery final sequences (I’m spoiling nothing as this much his hinted at in the trailer). Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Milla Jovovich, and Nastassja Kinski are all excellent as the other main characters, all of whom cross paths with Mullan and get in the way of his perceived sense of happiness. This is narrative that hinges on jealousy, deceit, loyalty, love, business, and the ever burning quest that some people have to own and control all that they come into contact with. There are shades of Serena (an overall disappointment but not without its technical merits) and There Will Be Blood (one of the great films of the century) and other recent American period pictures detailing the harsh living conditions and the discovery of valuable resources (The Claim centers its dramatic action over the great California Gold Rush). The film was shot on location in Alberta, Canada, and it truly looks it – The Claim feels cold, remote, challenging, and daunting. This is an obscenely undervalued piece of cinema that seems to have snuck by way too many people. I can remember seeing it in a mostly empty theater in Los Angeles and thinking to myself that I was secretly being treated to one of the best films of that particular year.

2