In January 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl traveled to Karachi with his pregnant wife, Mariane, in pursuit of the truth. He was investigating a possible tie between “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and Sheikh Gilani, a Pakistani cleric who dabbled with radical Islamic groups in the past. “Meet him in public” everyone warned Daniel, fearing for his life.
But it didn’t matter. He was brutally murdered after being abducted by jihadists who, in a bitter twist of fate, had nothing to do with the lead he was pursuing. They just saw an opportunity to seize a respected American journalist and torture him until the U.S. government caved in to their outlandish demands. Which, of course, never happened.
A Mighty Heart is Mariane Pearl’s account of the five weeks leading up to her husband’s death. It’s based on the memoir she wrote of the experience in hopes that her son, Adam, could get a feel for the great man his father was and how much people cared about him.
The irony is that the title is easily the most sentimental thing about the movie. Director Michael Winterbottom (Road To Guantanamo) uses his polished, documentary style of filmmaking to put us right there in the situation and keep tensions high. He creates a sense of urgency with the gritty camerawork and setting, which aptly complement the powerful, talk-heavy script by John Orloff.
For this reason, A Mighty Heart works surprisingly well as a nail-biting political thriller. Although it’s based on real events that were plastered all over the news five years ago, it seems fresh, and you just may find yourself hoping for a different ending than the one you know is coming.
Most of the film is set within the home of Daniel’s friend/colleague Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi), which becomes the headquarters for the investigation. There is a real sense of community on display, bringing together friends, government captains (Irrfan Khan), security specialists (Will Patton) and employers (Denis O’Hare) with a common goal to save a life.
Angelina is fantastic as Mariane Pearl, transforming not just her physical appearance but her entire persona. Gone are the sexy, attention-grabbing antics, and in their place are subtlety, strength and an empowering sense of optimism. She is barely recognizable as this woman who kept it together and never lost hope amid a grueling quest. And you’d never guess it from Alexander, but she pulls off an extremely difficult French/Cuban accent.
Daniel (Dan Futterman) appears in A Mighty Heart mostly in flashbacks with Mariane, which are done tactfully and without piling on the sap. They’re mainly shown in regular, everyday moments, just looking at each other with love and going about their daily business.
While no recreation could ever truly capture what they had or the tragic direction their lives would lead, A Mighty Heart makes a surprisingly effective attempt. After all, not many movies can break your heart, keep your adrenaline racing and remind you of life’s value all at once.