The beheading of Daniel Pearl was one of the more horrific images from the aftermath of the second Gulf War. I remember watching the grisly video wondering about the kind of people that would commit such a violent act. It was saddening and disturbing to witness a video of the final moment of Daniel Pearl's life. I have my disagreements with the press and how they have handled the reporting of the Gulf War and the aftermath, but Daniel Pearl was a human being that caused no harm to others. He was an expecting father and a loving husband. It is hard to believe that almost six years have passed since this disturbing event, but Daniel Pearl, a Jew in Pakistan, was beheaded by his captors in supposed response to detainees in Guantanamo Bay held by Americans.
Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) and Mariane Pearl (Angelina Jolie) are reporters living in Pakistan. Pearl was employed by the Wall Street Journal and covering a story based on Richard Reid (the infamous Shoe Bomber) and links to Al Qaeda. Pearl had an arranged meeting with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilanti, a possible terrorist. However, the meeting was a ruse and intended solely for the purpose of kidnapping Pearl. It was premeditated and Gilanti had no knowledge of this meeting. After Pearl was missing for a few hours, Mariane became worried and contacted various people in an attempt to track her husband down. Unfortunately, every phone number she could find was disconnected and other information proved to be bogus. A houseguest and friend, Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi) helped Mariane try to contact anybody in Karachi that might help find where Danny had been taken.
Various law agencies soon came onboard the case to find Daniel Pearl. The local Pakistani police in Karachi frantically searched cell phone records and tried to track down any potential suspects through these records. The Karachi police roughed up their suspects and tried everything to find out where Pearl was being held. The United States Department of Justice and the Diplomatic Security Service sent agents to help find the location of Pearl and bring him home to safety. Randall Bennett (Will Patton) was one agent and befriended Mariane during this time and helped her remain sane while the whereabouts and condition of her husband were unknown. The FBI and others played a part in the investigation as well. Daniel Pearl's laptop computer was one of the primary pieces of evidence in the early going, but only turned up false leads.
Eventually, after weeks of trying to find out whether or not Daniel Pearl was alive and having only limited communication and demands from his kidnappers, a videotape arrived for Randall Bennett and his colleagues to view. The videotape was the brutal beheading of Pearl. This brought about the end of the investigation, but sent shock waves through the world with its brutality and the stark reminder that terror could strike anybody. Mariane refused to watch the videotape, but after having her son, she felt it was necessary to see and understand what her husband had went through. Mariane Pearl and Asra Nomani would move on to build the Daniel Pearl Foundation and help further the protection and safety of journalists and work to create a better social and racial understanding among people.
While I did not feel "A Mighty Heart" was a great film, I felt that Angelina Jolie did a stand up job of portraying the emotionally distraught and eventually heartbroken wife of Daniel Pearl. She showed tremendous emotional range and echoed the pain and sorrow that Mariane must have felt during her ordeal. There has been some controversy surrounding Jolie portraying a bi-racial woman, but I personally did not see a problem with Jolie being cast as Mariane and after seeing photographs of Mariane, I believe Jolie was a wise choice as the wife of Danny Pearl. While the movie feels like a long and drawn out affair, Jolie's emotional performance keeps the film together and provides a reason to watch the film.
Knowing the outcome of what happened to Daniel Pearl and also having the knowledge that his murderers have been captured and tried dampened the emotional impact of the film. I knew what was coming and felt that "A Mighty Heart" was a trying film because of the constant distraught state of the character of Mariane Pearl. Although Jolie is the primary reason to watch this movie, it is a trying experience to watch her heartfelt performance and sharing in the horrendous tragedy as it unfolds on-screen. With this viewpoint, perhaps the reason I don't hold "A Mighty Heart" as high as others have is because I felt it was simply too painful to watch Jolie through each and every scene. I also believed the final fifteen minutes felt tacked on and unnecessary. It was an attempt to show that Mariane carried on with her life, but offered no further closure than the discovery that her husband had been beheaded.
"A Mighty Heart" is a good film. Pearl was a Jewish man in an unfriendly country and he was pursuing potential terrorists and placed himself in great jeopardy. This resulted in one of the most horrific deaths to be presented to the worldwide public. This film looks at the suffering and unknowing of Pearl's wife Mariane and the attempts to find and free the kidnapped reporter. Of course, we know how the story ended and although Angelina Jolie gives a tremendous performance, the rest of the movie lacks the same level of emotion she provides. When Danny is finally discovered to be dead, it feel almost emotionless until Jolie belts out a few painful screams of depression. This movie is good, but if you take Angelina Jolie out of the equation, it would only be a passable form of entertainment.
"A Mighty Heart" is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer. Shot in high definition digital video, "A Mighty Heart" possesses a few very sharp and impressive moments. Unfortunately, the documentary style of filmmaking utilized by director Michael Winterbottom and Director of Photography Marcel Zyskind creates problems for the transfer and there are a few moments with overly excessive film grain and borders on being too dark in a few sequences. During some of the darker moments, the level of detail suffers greatly and "A Mighty Heart" becomes an ugly visual affair. Some bits and pieces of stock news footage has been intertwined into the film and these look dated and rough. Colors are subdued for much of the film. This does create a nice film like presentation and one will never state that "A Mighty Heart" looks over processed in post-production. With weaker than normal black levels, less than desirable shadow detail and its worn out appearance, "A Mighty Heart" is not a pretty affair on DVD, but then again I cannot imagine the subject matter should be made to look vibrant and lively.
Three Dolby Digital 5.1 multi-channel surround mixes are provided with "A Mighty Heart." There is one for English, one for Spanish and a track for French. Subtitles are also provided for each of the three supported languages. There are numerous sequences during the film that features Pakistani or other Arabic languages and these are subtitled as well. I was impressed with the performance of the Dolby Digital mix. There is plenty of deep bass to be heard throughout the film and this is used to help build emotions during the film. Rear surrounds are used for ambient and environmental effects and while this is not an enveloping experience, it does help convey the hectic and busy streets of Karachi. Much of the film is dialogue based and the spoken word is handled cleanly. The musical score by Molly Nyman and Harry Escott help cement the film in its Pakistani location, but also builds tension and sorrow when a scene calls for it. Words are never drowned out by the score and everything comes together rather nicely.
There are not many bonus materials included on "A Mighty Heart" and the filmmakers and Paramount have shown class by not including the Danny Pearl video. It is not something that ever needs to be included on a product deemed for entertainment. What has been included is the A Journey of Passion: The Making of A Mighty Heart (30:01) feature that includes Angelina Jolie, Michael Winterbottom, Will Patton, Dan Futterman and others. Sadly, Producer Brad Pitt is absent. The documentary is nicely produced and although it doesn't fall into the overly promotional EPK feeling category, it does feel routine. There are some nice discussions about the real-life people portrayed in the film and a little bit about the making of the film, but in a half an hour's time, it doesn't dig too deep into anything. The second feature can be played before the movie, or through the bonus menu. The Public Service Announcement - Pearl Foundation with Christiane Amanpour (2:08) is a short intro and talks about the Pearl Foundation. The Committee to Protect Journalists (8:40) talks about a committee that was formed a quarter of a century ago and goes into some detail about wartime reporters and the risks they take. Finally, the film's Theatrical Trailer is included.
Angelina Jolie delivers a powerful performance as Mariane Pearl and "A Mighty Heart" is a quality film that looks at the tension, investigation and period of unknowing that surrounded the kidnapping and eventual decapitation of reporter Daniel Pearl. Jolie is the greatest reason to watch the film and any doubts I may have had about the actress's ability to act have been completely dispelled. It is a shame the rest of the film didn't have the same emotional impact of its leading lady or "A Mighty Heart" would have been something truly special. The DVD release is marred by a visual style that doesn't result in a great looking picture. The film is murky and scarred by poorly lit sequences and a drab appeal. The sound is effective and helps build emotion. Special features are limited and do not add much to the Daniel Pearl story, but focuses on foundations and committees that relate to the subject matter. I think "A Mighty Heart" is a movie that everybody should take time out to watch, if not just to see Jolie's masterful performance.