A Mighty Heart - Review

The much acclaimed, docu-drama A Mighty Heart is based on the memoirs of Marianne Pearl. Backed by a roster of big names – Angelina Jolie, hotshot British director Micheal Winterbottom (Road to Guantanamo), and Mrs. Pearl herself – this movie depicts the life and senseless death of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Based on the true story, A Mighty Heart reenacts what was splattered on newspaper headlines around the world in January 2002. Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter on assignment in Pakistan post-9/11, gets kidnapped and murdered by terrorists. Indeed, one of biggest challenges for Winterbottom was to create a suspenseful, dramatic movie, while trying to make people forget that they knew how it was all going to end.

But in my eyes, the film’s challenges mounted even higher. First, was I going see a movie depicting the world’s newfound fear of the “Islamist Other” that would diverge from the majority of post-9/11 Hollywood films? Second, would I see an accurate portrayal of Pakistan, my country of birth, where I too could identify with its colourful landscape and diverse peoples? And lastly, how would the film’s star Angelina Jolie depict the magnitude of heartache Marianne Pearl felt in the weeks she spent waiting for her husband’s return?

Throughout the movie police and investigators navigate haphazardly through the streets of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest and busiest city, as they look for clues behind Daniel Pearl’s disappearance. Most of the time, they follow fruitless leads and innocent people undergo unnecessary and painstaking hours of interrogation and torture. Intended to be more of a suspenseful drama, it becomes more like one hour and 40 minutes of illustrating police procedures in a faraway place.

But some real drama is played out amongst the people looking for Daniel Pearl. At the centre of it all is Marianne Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s pregnant wife. She dominates nearly every scene and calls all the shots. Marianne’s character eludes dire desperation, yet maintains a serenely calm composure throughout the ordeal. I’m still not sure if Jolie’s role as Marianne is grandstanding and over the top or whether it needed to be that way in order to bring some humanity into the movie. Alongside Marianne, a chain-smoking Pakistani police chief and a staunch US Ambassador lead the operation to find Pearl. We see a Pakistani police chief worried about the reputation of his country and easily persuaded by Abe Lincoln-style bank notes and an US ambassador who is all to eager to give them out. But it’s too late, Mr. Chief, we know “your country” is not going come out as our hero. 

The main gaffe remains, if you’re familiar with the story this film whizzes by without leaving you any fresh revelation or insight. It’s a series of facts strung together with little display of human emotion. In the end, Daniel Pearl was essentially a victim of America’s “War on Terror.” But I can’t help but to think that Daniel Pearl isn’t the only one. If ever a film is made depicting the lives and senseless deaths of the thousands of Iraqi or Afgani civilians that have died in this senseless war that would be a start. But again, I can’t help but think that by no fault of Daniel Pearl’s, in this new world order, his life is more worthy than theirs.

Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Angelina Jolie

Rhyme Revolution Rating: * * (1/2)

Reviewed by: Sameen Amin