A Mighty Heart was released to theaters in the middle of June, a surprising date considering its subject matter. Surrounded by super heroes and John McClanes, Paramount chose to counteract the offerings everyone wanted to see with a depressing drama about a woman's struggle to overcome the kidnapping of her journalist husband in Pakistan.
The movie, starring Angelina Jolie, is a pretty good one. Jolie turns in an excellent performance as Mariane Pearl, a strong-willed French-Cuban (I think) who suddenly finds herself in a nightmare. If A Mighty Heart had been released in November and December, we might be talking about award nominations for the beautiful actress, but as is all I can say is that this is one of her finest performances to date. She has transformed her mannerisms, accent, style of acting and even her appearance (no, not anything like Charlize Theron) to the point where you will forget you're watching Jolie, and that right there is an accomplishment in itself.
Aside from the acting, A Mighty Hearts drills into the tension and events that took place over a short time in 2002. Director Michael Winterbottom (The Road to Guantanamo) has made a pretty decent little drama-thriller here, based on the book by Mariane Pearl. The acting all around is good, the direction relatively gritty, and Winterbottom manages to evoke emotion in every scene.
There's only one problem... The movie is based on the 2002 murder of Daniel Pearl. Sure, ten or twenty years down the line this might be a good subject, but this movie is based on one of the most publicized international stories since September 11, 2001. The movie is supposed to be about Mariane and how she deals with the rippling emotions of the events leading up to her husband's decapitation, but A Mighty Heart plays out like a crime thriller. Between interrogations and investigations, it appears as though Winterbottom is hoping that people will be kept on the edge of their seats hoping for a happy ending, but I have to think that most people - especially the audience interested in watching a film like this - already know how it's going to end. There's not much suspense, which would be fine if not for the fact that Winterbottom was clearly hoping for some.
Of course, I had the same concerns about United 93, the Paul Greengrass drama-thriller about the final hours of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11. Everyone knew how that one was going to end, but somehow Greengrass pulled it off and made it exciting. Maybe - just maybe - it had something to do with the fact that in a way the "good guys" won by sacrificing themselves.
Daniel Pearl really didn't have much of a choice.
Again, I suspect A Mighty Heart is meant to be about Mariane's perseverance through all of this, and in the end there is a scene where she tells all of her friends that the kidnappers didn't win because their intent was to terrorize, and they didn't manage to do that. Still, while this scene is powerful, it seems like a needed reminder for the audience to tell us that that was what A Mighty Heart was supposed to be about. It's not about Daniel Pearl, it's about Mariane. It's not about Daniel Pearl, it's about Mariane. Maybe if I repeat myself enough I will begin to believe it.
A Mighty Heart would have been a great movie to release in a decade's time when memories of the tragic events have faded a bit, but as is, it is worth it more for Angelina Jolie's performance than any themes Winterbottom is trying to convey.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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