On Jan. 23, 2002, Mariane Pearl's world changed forever. Her husband Daniel, South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, was researching a story on shoe bomber Richard Reid. The story drew them to Karachi where a go-between had promised access to an elusive source. As Danny left for the meeting, he told Mariane he might be late...
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On Jan. 23, 2002, Mariane Pearl's world changed forever. Her husband Daniel, South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, was researching a story on shoe bomber Richard Reid. The story drew them to Karachi where a go-between had promised access to an elusive source. As Danny left for the meeting, he told Mariane he might be late for dinner. He never returned. In the face of death, Danny's spirit of defiance and his unflinching belief in the power of journalism led Mariane to write about his disappearance, the intense effort to find him and his eventual murder in her memoir "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl." Six months pregnant when the ordeal began, she was carrying a son that Danny hoped to name Adam. She wrote the book to introduce Adam to the father he would never meet. Transcending religion, race and nationality, Mariane's courageous desire to rise above the bitterness and hatred that continues to plague this post 9/11 world, serves as the purest expression of the joy of life she and Danny shared.
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If A Mighty Heart was either a flat-out documentary or larger-scale movie version of the same story, it would be a lot more intriguing. But then again, neither of those would be a proper Angelina Jolie Oscar vehicle.
A Mighty Heart is based on a tragedy of which we all know the gruesome outcome: the capture and eventual murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), whose execution footage was widely seen on the Internet. On Jan. 23, 2002, in Karachi, Pakistan, Danny thought he was heading to an interview regarding "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid, and his pregnant wife, Mariane (Angelina Jolie), herself a journalist, thought the two of them were going to have dinner afterwards; both of them were wrong. Danny gets tricked by a cab driver and later his interviewee, ending up in the hands of his kidnappers and eventual murderers. For the next several weeks, Mariane—with help from Danny's associate (Archie Panjabi); a Karashi police detective (Irrfan Khan); an American security agent (Will Patton); and Danny's Wall Street Journal superior (Denis O'Hare) and colleague (Gary Wilmes)—embarks on her own frantic investigation, tracking any and all leads, retracing steps and, most importantly, remaining optimistic. Her efforts, as we now know, were in vain, but her spirit was never broken. In fact, Mariane winds up with the ultimate keepsake of her slain husband: their son, Adam, to whom she dedicates her memoir of the tragedy, entitled A Mighty Heart.
Angelina Jolie is the unequivocal heart of A Mighty Heart both on screen and off. On screen, her fame is almost too large for small fare like this, but this particular movie, which boasts the most compelling story imaginable, would be the least compelling movie imaginable without her performance. Off screen, even Mariane Pearl's highly regarded memoir would probably not have been enough to greenlight the big-screen version without a Jolie-sized endorsement. It's easy to forget that Jolie is an actress before a paprazzi target, but this movie refreshes our memory. She may not necessarily deserve the Oscar, but the writing is on the wall, what with the Best Actress Trifecta: played-down looks, a real-life character and a foreign accent. There's also a gut-wrenching scene—you can imagine the point in the story at which it occurs—which might as well have had "Future Oscar Reel" scrolling across the bottom. The other actors are rendered almost nonexistent. Futterman, who wrote the Capote screenplay, is an eerily perfect match for Pearl all the way down to his first name but barely appears in the movie. Veteran actor Patton, meanwhile, must have been a dead-on physical match for his real-life character, because his performance consistently seems on a different wavelength as compared to the others. The two prominent foreign actors, Panjabi (Bend It Like Beckham) and Khan (The Namesake), greatly outperform Patton in this case, but luckily everyone is given a free pass aboard the Jolie Train.
British director Michael Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart is an Angelina Jolie away from being totally insignificant. Granted, it's Mariane Pearl's story to tell and Jolie is meant to have the spotlight shining solely and brightly on her, but where Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) intended for the movie to seem visceral it is actually suspenseless. Recent fact-for-fact successes United 93 and Zodiac, two stylistically different works of nonfiction, excelled because their directors managed to squeeze out suspense from stories whose endings we already knew. In Heart, Winterbottom seems more concerned with getting the facts and cinematography right than taking us inside Mariane Pearl's head or plight, and thus the movie could've actually benefited from some embellishment here and there. After the success of The Road to Guantanamo, Winterbottom is still deep in docudrama mode, but this isn't a documentary and it's not particularly dramatic. For the most part, the talented director's Heart is just in the wrong place.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.
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