A Mighty Heart

A Mighty Heart


Reviewed by: The Exile

A Mighty Heart, the docudrama about the hunt for Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, is English director Michael Winterbottom’s third film about Middle East politics (after In This World and The Road to Guantanamo), and it’s not a subject to which he was anxious to return. He agreed to do the film only after being approached by the production company, Plan B Entertainment, unaware that Pearl’s widow, Mariane - on whose book the movie is based - had already approached Angelina Jolie to play herself. (He didn’t find out about the women’s earlier meeting until Jolie revealed it at a press conference in Cannes earlier this year.) The casting of Jolie, opposite B-list actor Dan Futterman as Daniel, should give you some idea of who this film is really about, and whose heart the audience is supposed to be celebrating.

Unfolding primarily in the threatening chaos of Karachi, A Mighty Heart is a detailed account of the manhunt conducted by the Pakistani police after Pearl fails to return from an interview with a suspected jihadist. Within the film’s dense and confusing fabric of clues and suspects, however, two things stand out. One is the astonishingly compelling performance of The Namesake’s Irfan Khan as the indefatigable Pakistani police captain; the other is Winterbottom’s unearthly ability to capture the character of a city, in this case one defined by the cacophony of car horns and a restless river of burkas and robes. Searching through a bewildering number of unnamed streets and unnumbered dwellings, both the local officials and their American counterparts become increasingly, believably frayed. By the time the film’s sole (and controversial) torture scene arrives, it possesses the unfortunate taint of catharsis.

Copy picture

Meanwhile a pregnant Mariane wanders around a friend’s villa clutching her belly and looking determinedly serene. But though undoubtedly a great actress, Jolie has reached the point where her personal life dwarfs any role she could conceivably play. (There was a reason the old studio system fiercely guarded the privacy of its actors.) Watch her on screen and you see, not Mariane Pearl, but tabloid pictures of adoption jaunts to miserable countries and lurid tales of her eccentric behavior. In A Mighty Heart, the twin forces of Jolie’s celebrity and Mariane’s clear desire to make herself the star twist the movie into a soap opera of female resilience.

Whenever possible, everything in the movie swirls around Mariane, the camera capturing every twitch of her beautiful face. Instead of allowing us some insight into Daniel’s perilous work and his reasons for undertaking it - or perhaps exploring the content of his character - we are encouraged to marvel at Mariane’s grace, dignity and lack of histrionics. Perhaps realising the inappropriateness of this skewed perspective, Jolie does what she can to disappear into the furniture, but her self-effacement only makes her appear cold. When she does finally break down, in an embarrassingly lengthy moment of wailing, it’s difficult not to cringe.

Winterbottom is a terrific filmmaker with an ability to evoke honest emotions and powerfully authentic lives (see 1999’s Wonderland), but this time he’s been trapped between the Scylla and Charybdis of Mariane and Angelina. Daniel Pearl may very well have possessed a mighty heart, but on the evidence of this film we will never know.

Reviewed on: 15 Jul 2007
Share this with others on...
A Mighty Heart packshot
Docudrama about the hunt for kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl, based on the book by his widow.
Amazon link

Read more A Mighty Heart reviews:

Chris ***1/2

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Writer: John Orloff, based on the book by Mariane Pearl

Starring: Dan Futterman, Angelina Jolie, Archie Panjabi, Mohammed Afzal, Mushtaq Khan, Daud Khan, Telal Saeed, Arif Khan, Tipu Taheer, Amit Dhawan, Saira Khan

Year: 2007

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA, UK


EIFF 2007

Search database:

If you like this, try:

In This World