Real-life incident is handled with the utmost suspense, decorum and authenticity
By Jimmy Gillman
It’s not an easy task to take a tragic real-life incident and turn it into a first-class suspenser without being disrespectful to the principals or the historical record, but British director Michael Winterbottom has pulled it off with a striking piece of filmmaking.
By now most Americans are familiar with the Daniel Pearl story; how the talented and insightful Wall Street Journal bureau chief for was taken hostage by Pakistani militants in 2002, used for propaganda purposes, and eventually beheaded. And most are probably familiar with the role his wife, Mariane, took in trying to have him rescued.
Those efforts, which involved a myriad of blind alleys and dangerous maneuvers, many undertaken at great personal risk, serve as the focal point of A Mighty Heart. It was a wise choice by Winterbottom—rather than using the story as a springboard for political sentiment or the particulars of Pearl’s captivity and murder (his beheading is not depicted), it’s the machinations of the intelligence services, local authorities and duplicitous associates that the director keeps center stage.
From the moment Pearl failed to arrive home after a scheduled interviewed with an underground jihadist leader, the pregnant Mariane knew something was wrong. As hours turn into days before any confirmation of Daniel’s kidnapping is received, the tension rises to near unbearable levels.
Familiar with the region, it isn’t long before Mariane, a journalist in her own right, begins to put together a plan and a team aimed at determining who is holding her husband, their demands, and the best way to get him released unharmed.
Knowing it’s an uphill battle, not only because her husband is an American, but because he is also Jewish, Mariane understands all too well time may be short. With courage and resolve in the face of agonizing confusion and warring factions surrounding her, each with its own agenda, she must be both negotiator and detective if there is to be any hope of bringing her husband back safely.
Working with a Pakistani government rife with terrorist sympathizers and a U.S. State Department and CIA not always on the same page, Mariane and her supporters must walk a minefield to ensure nothing they do backfires or makes worse Daniel’s precarious situation.
Structured closely along the lines of a police procedural, Winterbottom even manages to incorporate several action scenes into A Mighty Heart without deviating from his basic approach. The result is an exciting film (if such a term is appropriate considering the circumstances) that’s also moving and consistently thought provoking.
Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast as the French born Mariane, while Dan Futterman, shown only in flashback, strikes a respectable pose as Daniel. With strong assists from Will Patton and Irfan Kahn, A Mighty Heart is a terrific film; one that should not be passed over simply because of its challenging subject matter.