Dir: Michael Winterbottom. US. 2007. 108 mins
Michael Winterbottom has become a master at relating dramatic true stories in a documentary style. He brings a typical intelligence and urgency to A Mighty Heart, the 2002 case of the kidnap and execution of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The star casting of Angelina Jolie as Pearl's wife Mariane proves to be no stunt and is mutually beneficial to both film and performer. Jolie's presence will inevitably lift the profile of the picture whilst the role is the most rewarding that she has tackled since her Oscar-winning performance in Girl, Interrupted in 2000. Any distributor still has to face the challenge of generating an audience for a political thriller where the events are comparatively recent and the outcome is known. A Mighty Heart is smart enough and moving enough to make that a real possibility and should deliver the prolific Winterbottom the biggest audience of his career.
A journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl (Futterman) was respected for his integrity and desire to tease out a balanced truth from the muddy complexities of global politics. In 2002, he was in Pakistan with his wife Mariane (Jolie) who was expecting their first child. One January day in Karachi he left for a meeting related to a story on the shoe bomber Richard Reid. He never returned and the bulk of the film is a dramatisation of all the efforts that went into discovering his fate and trying to secure his safe release when it was found that he had been kidnapped by a Pakistani group seeking better treatment for hostages held at Guantanamo Bay.
A Mighty Heart does a fine job of making a relatively complicated story approachable. Lies and half-truths fight for acceptance as claims are made that Pearl worked for the CIA or Mossad or even the Indian secret service. The politics of his kidnapping are paramount but are balanced by the personal story of what is at stake for his wife. Flashbacks are effectively and economically used to sketch in the couple's warm relationships and happy memories. The editing ensures an unshowy flow to the narrative and the decision to shoot on the actual locations in Pakistan pays dividends, fulfilling the age-old cliche of making Karachi seem like another character within the story.
The film is also extremely well cast. Angelina Jolie blends into the ensemble, beautifully underplaying her role, sustaining the flawless accent of the French-born Mariane and conveying the dignified spirit of the woman. It is a performance that could bring her some awards attention and one that never overbalances a film filled with strong supporting performances, most notably Archie Panjabi as Mariane's friend Asra and Irrfan Khan who lends great authority to the role of the resolute investigator Captain who was so determined to find Pearl and secure his release.
Paramount Vantage (US)
Based on the memoir by Mariane Pearl