Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl
Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl
Irfan Khan as Captain
Archie Panjabi as Asra Q. Nomani
Will Patton as Randall Bennett
Gary Wilmes as Steve LeVine
Denis O’Hare as John Bussey
Mohammed Afzal as Shabir
Perrine Moran as Ruth Pearl
Jeffry Kaplow as Judea Pearl
Ishaque Ahmed as Arif
Aly Khan as Omar/Bashir
Daud Khan as Masud the Fixer
Telal Saeed as Kaleem Yusuf
Saira Khan as Nasrin
Aliya Khan as Kashva
Azfar Ali as Azfar
Ahmed A. Jamal as Khawaja
Adnan Siddiqui as Dost Aliani
Shah Murad Aliani as Farooq
Imran Paracha as Major Major
Imran Patel as Jamal Paracha
Taj Khan as Suleiman
Chad Chenouga as Satchi
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Angelina Jolie’s powerful performance is the true heart and soul of what’s often a rather clinical missing persons investigation.
Daniel and Mariane Pearl (Dan Federman, Angelina Jolie) had only been in Karachi, Pakistan for a few days when Daniel disappeared while trying to nail down an important interview. Fearing that he’d been kidnapped, his pregnant wife and fellow journalists worked with the Pakistani counter-terrorist unit to try to find Pearl before he is killed.
Five years ago, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and brutally murdered by terrorists while on assignment in Pakistan, and it was an incident that shocked the world. It’s such a well known story that it leads to similar problems as “United 93” and “World Trade Center” in that it’s hard to build any sort of suspense and tension when you know how things end. British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom’s recreation of the search and investigation, based on Mariane Pearl’s memoirs, shows that there was a lot more going on behind the scenes than anyone outside of their immediate circle knew.
Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Mariane is the film’s core, her voice almost unrecognizable in the introductory voiceover due to her heavy accent, and even harder to recognize due to the long curly black hair and darker skin used to make her look more like the real Mariane Pearl. An opening scene of the pregnant Mariane lying in bed with Daniel talking about names for their baby sets things up for him leaving for an important meeting to interview a sheik who may have been involved in the Richard Reid shoe-bomber incident. When Daniel doesn’t return home, Mariane gets worried and soon, the FBI and the local anti-terrorist unit are on the case, working with Mariane and her journalist colleagues to figure out who might have taken Daniel and how to get him back.
This story involves a lot of characters, a lot of talking and a lot of facts and information being strewn about, which doesn’t make for a particularly interesting experience since the investigation is handled in such a clinical and linear fashion. There was a little seen movie a few years back called “The Clearing” which handled the various emotions involved with someone’s kidnapping better than this, as for the most part, the emotions tend to take a back seat to finding facts. Shot almost exclusively with handheld cameras, the interaction of the characters isn’t that convincing due to the mundane half-scripted dialogue, and it’s only elevated by the quality of actors in the ensemble cast.
Jolie is able to create so many subtle layers in Mariane Pearl that you’re apt to forget it’s her, as you watch this amazing woman hold herself together during the investigation despite being separated from Danny for days. When she’s on her own, we see how it’s affecting her with the emotional impact in these scenes enhanced by flashbacks to the couple during happier times. As much as the movie is about Mariane, there are equally strong performances from Dan Futterman (a character actor who wrote “Capote”) as Daniel and Indian actor Irfan Khan as Captain, the head of the CID, but in general, everyone in the cast succeeds in pulling off their respective roles.
This type of subject matter isn’t foreign to Winterbottom who used a similar docudrama feel in last year’s “The Road to Guantanamo,” mixing actual news footage with dramatic recreations to keep everything grounded in reality. As in past films, Winterbottom does a great job capturing the beauty and chaos of the Karachi setting, picking up the pace when Captain leads his men through the city trying to find clues to Danny’s kidnappers, and we see how his unit conducts business using torture and scare tactics that are only slightly more civilized than the men they’re trying to find.
Fortunately, Pearl’s brutal execution is handled tastefully; instead of recreating the infamous video tape, Winterbottom shows how others react while seeing it for the first time. Mariane doesn’t watch the tape, but when informed of Danny’s death, her reaction might seem extreme, as she lets loose with a series of primal screams, and to see this strong woman finally lose it behind closed doors is a scene that few will ever forget. Shortly after that, we watch Mariane being interviewed for television about Danny’s death, and she’s calm and collected once again. These latter scenes are a real turning point, and it’s a shame that there wasn’t anything nearly as powerful earlier in the film.
The Bottom Line:
“A Mighty Heart” isn’t a perfect movie by any means, many of the problems coming from the loosely scripted dialogue and the tediously long sections of exposition, which leaves most of the better scenes until later in the movie. Clearly, Jolie’s emotive performance is what keeps the movie from getting too bogged down in facts over emotions, but it takes a long time to get to the point where you’re really absorbed by this story.