In a world laced with conflict and turmoil, a movie about the gruesome death of a journalist covering a war commands a built-in audience. Add in superstar Angelina Jolie as the lead, and it’s no surprise “A Mighty Heart” is generating a lot of buzz.
Jolie plays Mariane Pearl, wife of Wall Street Journal South Asia bureau chief Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman). Although the couple is expecting their first hild, Mariane, herself a newspaper reporter, has no qualms about following her husband on assignment to Pakistan. Daniel is there to work on a story about the 2002 “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid. As expected, he must work through dozens of contacts to get leads for his story and trust that their contacts are also safe.
Opening to a scene in which Daniel traverses the streets of Karachi, Pakistan, the film makes it obvious how chaotic life in this third-world country is. The shaky hand-held camera of Marcel Zyskind offers suspenseful scenes of the overly crowded and dark streets where Daniel meets his contacts. Back in the couple’s compound, where they live and work, Mariane calmly awaits her husband’s return home and the arrival of their baby.
One night, Danny heads out to meet with his go-between source, Omar Saeed Sheikh, aka “Bashir,” and doesn’t return for dinner. As the hours tick by, Mariane becomes increasingly worried. A host of friends arrive to help keep vigil: Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi), an old friend and Journal colleague of Danny’s living in Karachi, the Journal’s John Bussey (Denis O’Hare), Steve LeVine (Gary Wilmes) and U.S. diplomatic security specialist Randall Bennett (Will Patton).
Even after a video-tape surfaces to announce that Daniel has been kidnapped, Mariane remains calm. She knows the drill, and does not become hysterical or slip into “why-me” mode. Instead, she’s the hard-core professional journalist who uses every second to drive both the U.S. and Pakistani governments to find Daniel.
As numerous agencies, including the FBI and the head of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism unit, work around the clock, Mariane is checked out by a doctor and remains committed to keeping calm for the well-being of her unborn child.
Jolie does a fine job of portraying Mariane, especially in the heartfelt scenes after the video of Daniel’s beheading surfaces. However, for me she’s become so notable, I simply cannot forget Jolie’s an actress and not the character. While I appreciated and was interested in knowing about this tragedy, Jolie’s presence, along with the film’s rejection of sentimentality, left me emotionally uninvolved - something someone attending this film might not expect.
“A Mighty Heart,” based on Mariane Pearl’s book, is mainly focused on revealing exactly what’s happening to so many journalists covering these situations. In the five years since Daniel Pearl’s death, nearly 230 journalists have been killed in the line of duty. Clearly, the movie is also designed to paint a vivid picture of what kind of man Daniel Pearl was. While that objective is sincerely met, Mariane Pearl says it best: “In his work, Danny struggled to keep free of dogma and alliance. He didn’t represent a country or a flag, just the pursuit of truth. He was there to hold up a mirror and force people to look at themselves. What better way is there to respect humanity?”