- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Paramount Vantage
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here’s no denying that only six years after the fact, Hollywood has practically exhausted their well of 9/11-related material. Some have been great (“United 93”), while others have fallen flat (“World Trade Center”), and though Oliver Stone's histrionic retelling left a sour taste in my mouth, it’s not nearly as offensive as these 9/11 films that exploit the tragic event as a means of creating complex characters for otherwise shitty movies. Thankfully, Michael Winterbottom’s latest film falls into the first group. Adapted from Mariane Pearl’s memoirs of the same name, “A Mighty Heart” is not only a tasteful docudrama that delivers all the facts, but it also operates as one of the best political thrillers in recent years.
Unless you’ve been holed up in your house with no human contact for the past five years, you’re probably familiar with the story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) and his shocking murder while on assignment in Karachi, Pakistan. Sent along as part of a media blitz designed to uncover answers following the events of 9/11, Daniel was kidnapped on January 23rd by a group of terrorists with strong ties to Al-Qaeda. After failing to return home the night of his scheduled interview with religious leader Sheikh Gilani, his wife pregnant Mariane (Angelina Jolie) contacted local police and launched an official investigation into his disappearance. Among those who joined the search included American security diplomat Randall Bennett (Will Patton), the head of Pakistan’s newly formed counter-terrorist unit (Irrfan Khan), and two of Pearl’s friends and co-workers, John Bussey (Denis O’Hare) and Steve LeVine (Gary Wilmes).
Unfortunately, despite a unified effort to track down Pearl’s kidnappers, his death was confirmed on February 21st by way of a videotape displaying the decapitation and mutilation of his body. Those responsible were eventually captured and punished for their crimes, but that doesn’t stop Winterbottom from hinting at the possibility that Pearl’s murder could have been averted were the political situation in Pakistan not so complicated, or the web of those involved so complex. The film doesn’t get too heavy on the commentary, however, as the director wisely spends his time engulfed in the investigation side of things. As such, the movie feels a bit like a big screen version of “24” at times, but without all the over-the-top action, torture, and meandering subplots.
In fact, with the exception of a few key scenes, the entire movie takes place inside the house of friend and fellow journalist, Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi), and that’s where Winterbottom wins over his audience. By utilizing a documentary style that drops the viewer smack dab in the middle of all the chaos, it’s difficult to step back and remember that you’re not sitting in that same crowded room. The tension is at an all-time high throughout the course of the film, and though you already know the outcome, you can’t help but hope that through the magic (or perhaps ignorance) of Hollywood, Daniel Pearl makes it out alive. Of course, that’s simply not the case, nor is it the director’s intention.
While it initially seemed questionable that a studio would open a movie with Oscar potential in the middle of a summer ruled by big-budget blockbusters, you can see why they might have chosen otherwise. Despite early buzz that Angelina Jolie would be nominated for her role as the Afro-Cuban journalist, it’s not quite the award-worthy performance we were expecting it to be. Jolie may be playing the lead character, but it’s supporting players like Panjabi, Khan and O’Hare who deliver the more memorable performances. It’s not very often you find a poetic memoir disguised as a political thriller, but “A Mighty Heart” pulls it off with such grace that it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Featuring the same boring bonus materialas the original DVD, the Blu-ray release of “A Mighty Heart” is surprisingly bare. With the exception of a 30-minute making-of featurette (“A Journey of Passion”), the only other extras that appear are a short profile of the Committee to Protect Journalists and a PSA about the Pearl Foundation. Snore.