Movie Review: A Mighty Heart

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
The 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal journalist Danny Pearl at the hands of jihadist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is chronicled in "A Mighty Heart." Directed by Michael Winterbottom ("Road to Guantanamo"). The screenplay is adapted from the book Pearl's widow, Mariane wrote, detailing the horrible ordeal.

Pearl (Dan Futterman, screenwriter of "Capote") and Mariane were working as journalists in Karachi, Pakistan ("…where there are so many people nobody knows how to count them"). Daniel was tracking down information about shoe bomber Richard Reid, and his connection with terrorists. He had a meeting planned with Islamic militant Sheikh Gilani; colleagues advised Pearl that he would be safe if he met in a public place. Danny was expected home for dinner with Mariane and a few friends, but he never returned. The rest of the film chronicles the chaotic search that ended in tragedy five weeks later.

Winterbottom used the same Director of Photography as his other recent films, Marcel Zyskind. Shooting in sequence and without rehearsal, with hand-held digital video cameras gave a sense of immediacy, and being in Karachi. Crisp editing that shows scenes for no more than a few seconds creates a pulsing feeling. Most of the film revolved around the police detective work.

Mariane kept track of suspects and leads on a large white board in her apartment – which helps the audience decipher the byzantine underbelly of Pakistani society. Screenwriter John Orloff's authentic dialogue and the tour de force acting made it seem like we were a fly-on-the-wall during the real events. The film succeeded in showing not only the ugly side of Pakistan, but also those who were generous and passionate about helping in the case, and loyal friends to Danny and Mariane.

With tinted skin, corkscrew curly hair and a pregnant belly, Angelina Jolie aces Mariane's complex accent, her walk and countenance. Her strong presence was the glue for the stellar cast. However, I still couldn't forget that she is Angelina Jolie. Her star power will bring people into the theater to a post 911 saga they otherwise might opt not to re-live. Toward the end I'm not sure, but thought I heard Jolie's Mariane say, "This movie is for Adam," referring to the Pearl's son Adam who was born two months after Danny's death. If so, what was that?

Daniel Pearl's story - and those of the other 230 journalists killed in the Middle East since 2002 - merits being told. Although this is an intriguing rapid-paced police detective story, we don't get much more information about Mariane than we could glean from her memorable press conferences. I went to the screening hungry to know more about Danny, and was disappointed that I left not learning much more about Danny or Mariane than when I went in. "A Mighty Heart" is an engaging detective story, but light on deep character development.

For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield. (Air date: 6/20/07.)
More Information:
A Mighty Heart
Angelina Jolie; Directed by Michael Winterbottom