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On January 23, 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is to fly from Karachi to Dubai with his pregnant wife, Mariane, also a reporter. On the day before, with great care, he has arranged an interview in a café with an Islamic fundamentalist cleric. When Danny doesn't return, Mariane initiates a search. Pakistani police, American embassy personnel, and the FBI examine witnesses, phone records, e-mails, and hard drives. Who has him? Where is he? There's also the why: because of U.S. abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo, because of a history of Journal cooperation with the CIA, because Pearl is a Jew? Through it all, Mariane is clearheaded, direct, and determined.
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Under the direction of Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, The Road to Guantanamo), this sensitive material is managed with great care, employing a hand-held documentary approach which captures the many facets of the sprawling, immense city that is Karachi. The matter-of-fact manner in which Winterbottom approaches this subject is testament to his integrity and standing as a filmmaker.
That he successfully avoided the pit-falls of casting super-star Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl is his greatest achievement. There is no doubting Jolie’s ability, but indulging her fondness for histrionics could have played havoc in recounting an event that many audiences will remember all too clearly.
The scenes in which Mariane is interviewed on live television are the most touching; Jolie delivering her heart-felt pleas with an extraordinary, tender performance, made so convincing with her soft, engaging voice. Jolie is fortunate to be surrounded by a superb cast and Dan Futterman’s understated performance as Daniel Pearl (mostly told through flashback) is entirely appropriate.
The surprise is that A Mighty Heart is essentially apolitical. With Winterbottom at the helm, and given the subject matter, there could have been room for an attack on American foreign policy; instead there are few mentions of Guantanamo bay and the war on terror and ultimately, the film is a politically diluted tragedy. Neither does Winterbottom evade the more risky areas of the story; demonstrating the Pakistani police’s unscrupulous methods of investigation side by side with the American officials own indifference.
A Mighty Heart proves that cinema’s relationship with terrorism and religious hatred does not have to end with political statements and moral judgements. It is naive to judge this exceptional film by an over-sensitive reaction to its message or its meaning. It is a compelling drama that is thrilling, tragic and inspiring.
A MIGHTY HEART