A Mighty Heart
Review by Jack Foley
ON January 23, 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was on his way to interview Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani at the Village restaurant in Karachi, Pakistan, when he was kidnapped instead.
Over the ensuing days, attempts to find and rescue him were led by his pregnant wife Mariane, also a journalist. But the search came to a close when Daniel was murdered and beheaded.
Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart is based on the novel of the same name by Mariane Pearl and recounts the investigation as seen through the eyes of one individual.
It provides Angelina Jolie with the role of a lifetime, which ought to earn her an Oscar nomination at the very least. Stripping away the glamour with which she is synonymous, Jolie lends Mariane a quiet dignity during the dark days of her husband’s kidnap.
It’s a performance of restraint that eventually gives rise to one of the most painful but breathtaking moments of her career – a raw, ear-splitting reaction to news of Daniel’s fate that literally sends shivers down the spine.
But then Winterbottom has never been one to flinch away from a difficult scene. His camera may feel like its intruding, at times, but it adds to the authenticity of the situation he successfully recreates.
A Mighty Heart has been accused by some critics of being a cold experience – and it’s true that the film exists in an atmosphere of knowing dread. But given the nature of the subject and the harrowing nature of its outcome, it was never going to be an easy watch.
Rather, it’s a fascinating, often frightening insight into another aspect of the war on terror that exists as both a cold reminder of extremism at its most barbaric and of humanity’s capacity for forgiveness. In Mariane Pearl, Jolie presents audiences with a beacon of hope in the darkest of situations.
Winterbottom, for his part, brings a documentary style to the investigation and keeps the search for Daniel taut and interesting, in spite of the inevitability of the outcome.
In doing so, he also draws excellent performances from a first-rate ensemble cast, with Irfan Khan standing out as a Pakistani police chief and Dan Futterman similarly memorable as Daniel Pearl.
A Mighty Heart serves as an excellent companion piece to Winterbottom’s own Road To Guantanamo, as well as the likes of Paul Greengrass’s United 93 and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center.
It’s also a salient reminder that there are no easy answers in the war against terror and that beneath the political rhetoric it’s the individuals who suffer at the front end of the campaign. It’s a remarkable achievement for its stars and director.
Running time: 108mins