Paramount // 2007 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // March 24th, 2009
Based on a true story.
Though it sits on the edge of being manipulative and heavy-handed, A Mighty Heart is an impressive procedural, a film written by a reporter. As such, it is exactly what we would expect from its pedigree. It is precise and thoughtful, intelligent but carefully crafted to appeal to a wide audience. More than these things, though, it shows its bias without making (or needing to make) apologies for it.
Following the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman, Enough) in Pakistan, his wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie, Wanted) wrote the experiences of the kidnapping and investigation into a book. This film is adapted from that book, probably as close to a true story as non-documentaries get. Despite the premise, A Mighty Heart is not a thriller, but rather an exploration into the nature of terrorism, hostage situations, and the plight of reporters who risk their lives so that we can find out what's going on in other parts of the world.
There are those who are disappointed with A Mighty Heart, probably because the premise and trailer suggest that it is an action-packed thriller, but that's really not what we get at all. Instead, it is a film that replicates the experience that Mariane Pearl went through. While Daniel Pearl was experiencing a thriller of horrors and immediate suspense, she was witnessing other things: the response of the Pakistan anti-terrorism unit, the involvement of the American embassy, the help of other reporters, and her slow inner conflict between panic and hope. By locking the story (mostly) to what she would know, A Mighty Heart becomes a very different film than those we've seen on the subject before.
Most of the attention for A Mighty Heart has been on Angelina Jolie's impressive performance as Mariane Pearl. This praise is well-deserved. I can't imagine the pressure to become a still-living figure from an important news story from only a few years prior. Jolie juggles everything plausibly -- from Mariane's accent (French with a Cuban background) to her pregnancy -- even during scenes of great emotional tension. More importantly, Mariane is never idealized in the way we see in so many true stories. It's easy to believe that the Mariane in the film is very much like the Mariane in real life. While the same is not true of Daniel, who is highly idealized, this is forgivable under the circumstances. I can't imagine that Mariane would spend this horrible time thinking about Daniel's faults.
In the end, the film works best as a procedural study of investigations into terrorism cases. It can occasionally get overwhelming, as each team is looking into separate leads and names of suspects are being added every few minutes. At the same time, we really do get to experience emotionally what it would be like to go through her experience. Because it's all so carefully and precisely laid out, it never becomes a typically manufactured movie experience. Because we know what's going to happen at the end, it's not suspenseful in the same way that most thrillers are suspenseful. The suspense doesn't come from not knowing what will happen, but instead waiting to see when and how it will happen.
Paramount has done a fine job with the transfer, for the most part. It has the level of detail that we would expect from a recent film from a major studio. The colors have been intentionally washed out, however, so the whole film has a beige tinge. While this creates a consistent look for the film, it also washes out much of the vibrancy that Blu-Ray is capable of. The Dolby 5.1 TrueHD sound transfer is also good, though it's largely trapped in the front soundstage. With so much dialogue, I'm not even sure the lossless transfer makes much difference. The only real extra is a production featurette, which is presented in fullscreen and standard definition.
There's no question that A Mighty Heart wears its heart on its sleeve. With the inclusion of an international reporting PSA at the beginning, the purpose of getting the message out sometimes overwhelms the storytelling, which should always come first. It's a good message, of course, but truly jaded viewers might have a hard time getting past the message-driven script and structure. For most, though, A Mighty Heart will offer a genuine and heartfelt emotional experience.
If you've never seen A Mighty Heart, it's definitely still worth it. This is an impressive emotional experience captured on film, with great performances from all involved. At the same time, I'm not sure I'd recommend this as a DVD upgrade. The detail is there, but this is hardly a showcase for high definition in the audio or visual department. There are no new extras to explore, either. If you haven't picked A Mighty Heart up yet, though, Blu-Ray is not a terrible way to go.
Review content copyright © 2009 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site