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Case Number 12212

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A Mighty Heart

Paramount // 2007 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // October 16th, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Ben Saylor has nothing witty to say about this movie.

Editor's Note

Our review of A Mighty Heart (Blu-Ray), published March 24th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

It was an event that shocked the world. This is the story you haven't heard.

Opening Statement

It has now been five years since the kidnapping and brutal murder of Daniel Pearl, South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. Earlier this year, Paramount Vantage released A Mighty Heart, a chronicle of Pearl's disappearance and the efforts of his wife, Mariane, and others to find him. Hollywood (and tabloid) superstar Angelina Jolie was cast as Mariane. Jolie's partner, Brad Pitt, served as one of the film's producers.

Facts of the Case

In January 2002, in Karachi, Pakistan, Wall Street Journal South Asia bureau chief Daniel Pearl (Capote screenwriter Dan Futterman) leaves for an interview that he hopes will provide information related to shoe bomber Richard Reid. When he does not return, his wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie, The Good Shepherd), a French journalist, and Asra (Archie Panjabi, A Good Year), a colleague of Pearl's, report him missing. A Pakistani police captain (Irrfan Khan, The Namesake), with the help of American diplomat Randall Bennett (Will Patton, Remember the Titans) and some of Pearl's colleagues at the Journal, launches an investigation into Pearl's disappearance.

The Evidence

Hard questions were inevitably raised with the release of A Mighty Heart. Just as people asked in 2006 with United 93 and World Trade Center, is it too soon for a movie with this subject matter? Will it be tastefully and respectfully done? And can one of Hollywood's best-known actresses pull off a tricky performance without letting her star power shine through?

Director Michael Winterbottom's (24 Hour Party People) film ultimately provides satisfactory answers to these questions; A Mighty Heart is a raw, unnerving film that squarely puts the viewer into the Pearls' Karachi home, which becomes the nerve center of the search for Pearl. Without succumbing to the herky-jerky handheld camera techniques becoming alarmingly commonplace in film these days (Peter Berg's The Kingdom is one particularly egregious example), Winterbottom's quick cutting and Marcel Zyskind's excellent cinematography (using lots of natural light) keep A Mighty Heart interesting visually throughout its 108-minute runtime.

Arguably the most divisive factor about this film, however, was the casting of Jolie. There is always the danger, in casting someone who is so frequently in the public eye, that all the audience will see is the star, not the character. While I feel Tom Cruise is a good actor, for the past year or two, it's been hard to watch him in anything without being continually reminded that I am watching Tom Cruise. Jolie, however, manages to avoid this trap. Granted, her hair, makeup, and accent help conceal the Jolie who makes more headlines for her humanitarian work and steadily increasing international family, but if you look past that, you'll find a moving, quietly powerful performance. In Mariane, we have a woman whose husband has been kidnapped, who is clearly going through unimaginable emotional turmoil (while pregnant, to boot), and yet never allows her spirit to be broken. Jolie clearly conveys Mariane's resolve with subtlety and grace in a controlled performance, which makes the scene where Mariane learns of her husband's murder that much more affecting. What has been building since Pearl failed to return home, all the emotions of the preceding weeks, everything comes pouring out. Even after the news of Pearl's murder, when doing an interview for television, Mariane points out that Pakistanis are also being killed by terrorists; in other words, she is not the only one suffering. Rather than becoming embittered, her resolve is further strengthened.

But Mariane's personal struggle is only part of a larger picture, as Winterbottom and screenwriter John Orloff (who adapted the memoir written by Mariane Pearl with Sarah Crichton) examine Pearl's activities leading up to his abduction, in addition to providing snapshots of his and Mariane's life together in strongly written, well-acted flashbacks. What dominates, however, is the search for Pearl. In this part of the narrative, the notable players (beside Mariane) are Captain (He is never given a name), Asra, and Randall Bennett. All three characters are strongly acted, although Captain is troubling because he is made out to be a very sympathetic character, but is later seen mistreating a suspect related to Pearl's abduction. No one calls him out on this, which is somewhat unsettling.

Compared to United 93, the emotional wallop A Mighty Heart packs is unique in that the focus is on one individual victim of terrorists and the people who love him. In United 93, the filmmakers purposely reveal little about the passengers as people; in A Mighty Heart, this is not possible, and the intimacy with which we are plunged into the situation makes for a harrowing viewing experience.

The video of A Mighty Heart leaves something to be desired; the image has a fair amount of grain. I know it was shot in HD, but I've seen other HD movies with better DVD transfers. There is also what appears to be a layer change (or maybe just a defect on my disc) near the 57-minute mark. The sound quality is fine; dialogue is always discernible, and the music (some of which comes from Winterbottom's Code 46) comes through clearly without overwhelming the proceedings.

In terms of extras, there is a public service announcement about the Daniel Pearl Foundation, a brief featurette about the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a collection of trailers and a making-of featurette titled "A Journey of Passion: The Making of A Mighty Heart." The PSA is just that; but at two minutes it's worth seeing, although if you want to learn more about the Daniel Pearl Foundation you can visit www.danielpearl.org. The CPJ segment provides a sense of the danger journalists face today, and is also worth watching. "Journey" runs 30 minutes and is a fairly interesting piece featuring interviews with Winterbottom, Jolie, Futterman, Khan, and Panjabi. For me, the best part of this was learning about Winterbottom's working methods (fast pace with few breaks and no rehearsals). Being a Winterbottom fan, I was disappointed at the lack of a commentary track.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

A Mighty Heart loses me somewhat when it gets deeper into the investigation behind Pearl's kidnapping. Winterbottom moves quickly through the scenes detailing the search for Pearl's kidnappers, and a lot of names are thrown around. It's not always easy to follow what's going on. While I understand the importance of showing the efforts to find Pearl, it took the story away from Mariane too often.

In addition, Pearl himself is sometimes lost in the shuffle here. Yes, Winterbottom provides flashbacks and scenes of him before his abduction, but I wanted more. To clarify, I do not mean scenes of Pearl following his kidnapping; I wanted to get to know more about his life.

Closing Statement

With A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom has made a tactful, carefully constructed film that treats its subject with respect. In her portrayal of Mariane, Angelina Jolie shows similar respect to this extraordinary woman who suffered an unfathomable tragedy, and rather than sink into despair, refused to give up her faith in this world and the people who live in it. While the narrative is a tad cluttered, overall this is a powerful, well-made film that deserves an audience.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 86
Audio: 94
Extras: 92
Acting: 94
Story: 92
Judgment: 93

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• "A Journey of Passion: The Making of A Mighty Heart"
• Public Service Announcement: Pearl Foundation with Christine Amanpour
• Committee to Protect Journalists
• Previews


• IMDb
• Official Site

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