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STUDIO: Paramount Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 108 Minutes
• Available Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
• Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
• Journey of Passion: The Making of A Mighty Heart
• Public Service Announcement
• Committee to Protect Journalists
Watch humanity’s lows and highs unfold before your eyes.
Angelina (Life or Something Like It) Jolie, Dan (The Birdcage) Futterman, Irrfan (The Namesake) Khan, Archie Panjabi, Will (The Puppet Masters) Patton
On January 23rd, 2002, Daniel Pearl, American journalist representing the Wall Street journal was kidnapped by a militant Pakistani group who subsequently demanded the release of all Pakistani prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Pearl’s life. A little over a week later they slit his throat and beheaded him, leaving his mutilated body for the authorities to find. In 2003, his widower, Mariane Pearl published a memoir of the tumultuous week in which authorities aided her in a frantic rush to uncover the whereabouts of her husband’s captors. Her story of how people of different beliefs (she herself was a Buddhist, while her husband was non-religious but of Jewish descent) can come together in times of great need to help one another out is the basis for this film, a recreation of the kidnapping, search, and aftermath of the slaying of Daniel Pearl.
A gut-sinking sense of dread permeates A Mighty Heart from the very first frame, this is the price one pays for watching a film where the conclusion of the story is already common knowledge. It’s up to everyone’s work in the film to carry it beyond what we know and make it into a piece of art that makes us feel the events instead of simply coldly reliving them (if we needed a sensationalist take on an event involving foreign nations, we’d watch cable news), and luckily Michael Winterbottom and the outstanding cast and crew he assembled for A Mighty Heart are more than up to the challenge. It’s a film that takes an event of seeming meaningless and cold violence and turns it into an uplifting tale about how different cultures aren’t entirely doomed to misunderstanding and violence for all of eternity after all, but may in fact be able to work together towards a common goal in times of strife.
Angelina Jolie has never had the weight of a movie on her shoulder’s quite like she does in this one (although I’m sure the weight on her nipples when Original Sin opened was something immense), and she’s almost involved in every frame of screen time here. She’s the movies heart, and nothing less than a stellar performance would sink the entire flick like the Lusitania, so it’s a good thing that she comes to play in a major way in this film, complementing it instead of failing it (and the issue of her playing a woman of mixed racial origins never really interferes with the film or the performance, so the film makes it a non-issue). Her big emotional moment (at the point where we finally, thankfully, almost, given the tension building to that moment, receive the news that Daniel has been murdered) teeters right of the precipice of being EMOTIONAL ACTING IN ALL CAPS but it feels earned given the amount of dead ends and no-starts that had come before the moment in the film. In every other moment of the film, she commands the screen, playing the character with grace and dignity in the face of a horrible tragedy. It helps that she’s complemented by some truly superb supporting players, with Dan Futterman able to create a sympathetic portrait of Daniel Pearl despite being more of a spectral force hanging over the majority of the film rather than a performer in it and Irrfan Khan continuing his dominance of 2007 American cinema (complementing his solid work in The Darjeeling Limited and his show-stealing performance in The Namesake) with a performance of quiet dignity and strength that helps center Jolie’s performance at the middle of this maelstrom. Props also to Will Patton for making a lasting impression with a character that is clearly supposed to be representative of the American government’s role in this operation.
Winterbottom’s usual frenetic style and fly-on-the-wall approach works wonders here, as the accumulation of small moments (standouts for me: Jolie’s reaction to a child who witnesses her first minor breakdown outside of the house, a small discussion about urinary habits of the pregnant between some of the support group, the increasing clutter of the web on the wall as more and more links are found, creating only more obfuscation where one hoped that clarity would eventually appear) create a devastating and cohesive whole. It’s a fine job of editing and directing, and having a strong emotional rock for the audience to hold onto in Mariane makes this a very powerful experience, pushing it beyond the technical expertise one has come to except of Winterbottom towards making a genuinely moving filmic experience.
There’s only one real misstep in the movie: there’s a passage in which we lose the human element of the story for a bit and follow the procedural as it gains momentum in finding more and more connections to the kidnapping. This in and of itself is not the misstep; it was a natural divergence from the emotional component that while distancing is emotionally engaging on the ‘hoping against hope’ level. The misstep is the mini-montage that follows, chronicling the evolving relationship between Mariane and Danny cross-cut with the somber, dirge-like atmosphere of the household. It feels inorganic and emotionally manipulative, as though they didn’t trust that the movie and Jolie’s performance were enough to draw the audience back towards the emotional component of the film without a little gentle prodding. It’s a minor quibble though, and one the film rebounds from almost immediately.
For a lot of people this movie might be the type that you see once, register as being above average in all aspects of filmmaking and then make sure to never see it again. It’s undeniably emotional and feels remarkably close to the real event that transpired. However, Winterbottom is telling an optimistic story at its core here, about people who band together to try and counteract a truly reprehensible act based on misinformation and cultural misunderstanding. It helps to show that our differences don’t have to be the end of any dialogue between us, and that we can in fact work together as a society when the situation calls for it. Highly recommended.
The cover art is somewhat bland, but it actually conveys the fractured nature of the landscape being dealt with here; the numerous cultures clashing, and the dozens of conflicting viewpoints that makes this such an intriguing and heart-wrenching movie. The film looks quite good (it was shot with HD cameras) and the 5.1 surround backs it up appropriately (this isn’t a movie that’s going to work over your sound system, so that shouldn’t be a concern). There aren’t a lot of extras (this is the type of film that doesn’t exactly necessitate them, either), but what’s here is good and informative. The ‘Journey of Passion’ making of featurette is somewhere around a half hour in length and goes deep enough into the filmmaking process (showing it was shot in sequence and that the actors were kind of forced to cohabitate throughout the shooting, as well as slightly elucidating the hand-held and free-flowing methods behind Winterbottom’s shooting technique) to make it a pleasure to watch instead of a useless puff piece. Meanwhile the ‘Committee to Protect Journalists’ featurette clearly states why it’s important in this day and age where communication has become an immediate and unmediated exercise where anyone can make their opinion known without a scrupled medium (journalists) through which their messages are translated to protect the journalists and provide them with the basic protection and freedoms necessary in order to reach parts of the world that need to be more clearly defined for those who aren’t blessed with the ability to sift the wheat of a technologically integrated society from the chaff. There’s also an optional PSA that can be played separately or before the picture expounding on the foundation sprung up in Daniel Pearl’s name, which is a nice touch. So while the extras aren’t bountiful, they’re worth a watch. A nice overall package.
8.4 out of 10