This is the story of the 2002 abduction in Karachi of the Wall Street Journal writer, Daniel Pearl, and the efforts of his pregnant wife Marianne, his colleagues, the Pakistani police, the security services, and the CIA and the FBI to get him back alive.
Although most viewers will already know the awful upshot of events, Winterbottom’s intimate focus on Marianne’s and the investigators’ reactions to events, on their hopes and anxieties, carries you along. This is personal, tense and dramatic, and a restrained Angelina Jolie as Marianne, and Irrfan Khan as the police chief are impressive. We’re still gripped, even after Daniel’s death, by the procedural detail of tracing his killers through phone and email records. The film, though, raises a much bigger issue – why did this happen? And it falls some way short of an answer.
Marianne Pearl, from whose book the film is adapted, is a French public radio journalist. Her role, she tells us, is to overcome division by making people better informed of others’ circumstances. Yet although we get the immediate ‘security’ context – the politics dividing the Pakistanis and the tunnel-vision spookiness of the Americans – there’s little beyond that. Marianne, a Buddhist, resorts to chanting to overcome ‘hate’.
It’s gut-wrenching, and suggests that the spirit and emotions exist independently of the reality of people’s lives. Pakistan’s appalling poverty and its political and economic stasis don’t get a look in. And, weirdly, no-one ever mentions US foreign policy.