On January 23, 2002 Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and eventually killed by terrorists while working in Pakistan. A Mighty Heart is based on this true story. The narrative comes from the book of his wife Marianne Pearl. While this is certainly the tragic tale of a murdered reporter, this film is more the story of Marianne and her struggle to locate Pearl in the 10 days from his capture until a video tape surfaced depicting his beheading.
A Mighty Heart begins with us getting to know Daniel Pearl (Futterman), and it quickly takes us through the events leading to his capture. From here on out the theme shifts to the massive investigation to find him. Various American and Pakistani agencies come together to track down every lead in a relentless search. We are cleverly kept bonded to Pearl through well placed flashbacks mostly dealing with intimate moments shared with his wife. Her memories keep Pearl alive for us as they must have for her during those trying times. Of course, if you are at all familiar with these events, and who isn’t, you already know that this film has no happy ending. There aren’t even any satisfying answers left to at least leave you with some feeling of closure. You will leave, perhaps, with more questions than when you started. But there are no easy answers to be found here, and any attempt to provide them would not be honest if the film intends to make an impact as this one does. There are no apologies made, nor should there be for the brutal way the terrorists and their pursuers are portrayed and the culture in which they thrive.
Angelina Jolie is surprisingly good in the role of Marianne Pearl. She plays an emotional range seldom seen in the more mindless roles that have been her bread and butter. Honestly, I was afraid that the constant news on her personal life would make it impossible for me to invest at all in her character. Fortunately she displays skills I frankly didn’t think she had, and it doesn’t take long at all before Jolie melts away and you are watching Marianne Pearl. Irfan Kahn does an excellent job of portraying the Pakistani police captain who is motivated by the reputation these acts bring to his country. He works closely with the Americans to find these terrorists. At times it seems we are watching a foreign version of NYPD Blue as Captain breaks down doors and slaps suspects around to get his answers. Will Patton uses his experience as a CIA operative from television’s The Agency to play Randall Bennett, a friend of Pearl’s. Finally, Archie Panjabi holds the cast together as Asra Nomani, an Indian friend who coordinates much of the intelligence for the team. All of the actors worked in close confines most of the time, creating a rather intimate setting that went a long way towards pulling you into the story. There is also a distinct feel of a documentary.
A Mighty Heart is not light viewing. It is emotionally jarring and at times quite brutal. There is a natural flow to the action that only adds to the stark realism that makes you feel more like a voyeur than a movie audience. There are flaws. I doubt very much Marianne would continue to use such a cheery ring tone on her cell phone, and each time it rang I was removed from the story momentarily. The film was made in India, so the locations add yet one more element of reality to the mix. Director Michael Winterbottom made brave choices that he must have known would keep his film inaccessible to the mainstream audience and elected to preserve the strong statement made instead. The film avoids making any strong political statement or blame. This was a smart move. If Winterbottom had elected to inject a political finger pointing to any party, it would have closed this piece off to half of its audience, lessoning its impact measurably.
A Mighty Heart is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The print looks a bit grainy even though it was shot on HD camera equipment. It would be my guess that this was aimed at providing the documentary style it was looking for. I think it was a good choice, and even though it degraded the picture quality, you begin to not notice after a while. Colors are usually good, but there aren’t any bright colors provided for anywhere in the film. There is a gritty nature that tends to create mostly earth tone hues. Still, these colors are realistic and flesh tones are quite good. Black levels are fair and provide enough shadow detail to not distract. The bit rate ranged in the 5-6 mbps range throughout.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track provides only the minimum of range. Again, the film is mostly in close quarters, so any aggressive or wide use of surrounds would take away from the intent. You can hear the dialog most of the time. There is a lot of Arabic spoken, and unfortunately I did not discover until halfway through that the disc does not default to the subtitles during these scenes. You must select English 4 to get them. There’s little music, so there really isn’t a quality issue there. You will be presented with a very live feel. I don’t believe there was much ADR work done, so things can get lost.
Optional PSA Intro: You have the option of viewing a 2 minute Public Service Announcement for the Committee To Protect Journalists The piece features committee chair Christiane Amanpour and talks about Daniel Pearl and the Daniel Pearl Foundation.
A Journey Of Passion: The Making Of A Mighty Heart : When you attempt a film on something so recent and emotionally charged, you need to be very careful how you proceeded. You get the feel here that everyone involved was acutely aware of that need. They went out of their way to get to know the real characters and discover who Pearl was through his own writing. There are probably too many film clips here, but you will get a lot out of this 30 minutes.
Committee To Protect Journalists: This is an 8 minute piece about the organization and how they have built awareness of the plights of journalists all over the world. A little too much “journalists are pretty much the most important people in the world” stuff for me, but it is interesting.
Have you ever watched a football game instant replay and secretly looked for the outcome of the play to have changed in your team’s favor? Of course, we know it won’t happen, but if you’re honest, you’ve looked for it just the same. The same can be said for A Mighty Heart. Somehow you are engaged in this massive investigation and you buy into the urgency, while you know from the start how things are going to end. The film makes no attempt to sugar coat the reality, but you hope just the same. There are no areas of gray. Everything is there in stark black and white. A Mighty Heart serves us and Daniel Pearl by showing the terrorists for who they are. “Their aim is to purify Islam through violence.”
Gino Sassani is a member of the Southeastern Film Critic's Association (SEFCA). He is a film and television critic based in Tampa, Florida. He's also the Senior Editor here at Upcomingdiscs. Gino started reviewing films in the early 1990's as a segment of his local television show Focus. He's an award-winning recording artist for Omega Records. Gino is currently working on his 8th album Merchants & Mercenaries. Gino took over Upcomingdiscs Dec 1, 2008. He works out of a home theater he calls The Reel World. Favorite films: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Body Snatcher (Val Lewton film with Karloff and Lugosi, not the pod people film), Unforgiven, Gladiator, The Lion King, Jaws, Son Of Frankenstein, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and Monsters, Inc.