As you could probably guess, A Mighty Heart is difficult to watch. Knowing the true story on which the movie is based — and knowing the outcome of this story — causes a dense, heavy sense of impending doom to sit like a rock in one's belly throughout the film's duration. In fact, there were times when I wondered what I was doing watching this horrifyingly sad tale. In the end, however, I was glad I did. The story is an important one.
In 2002, journalists Daniel and Mariane Pearl were reporting from Pakistan. Five months into Mariane's pregnancy, the two decided to leave Pakistan, but Daniel had one more interview he wanted to conduct. He left for the interview, and disappeared. Kidnappers contacted Mariane and her team of journalist allies and U.S. officials, demanding the release of certain Guantanamo prisoners in return for Daniel's release. Of course, this is not the end of the story, so
Ultimately, when the prisoner exchange did not happen, the kidnappers beheaded Daniel and sent out a video of the brutal act. Daniel's story received widespread media coverage, and the video of his murder was sent around the Internet. Mariane Pearl went on to write the book A Mighty Heart in the hopes of giving her son Adam the chance to know a father who died only months before Adam was born.
Thankfully, the Hollywood types did not take this opportunity to gratuitously show the real footage or even reenactments of the footage, perhaps because Mariane herself has never watched the video. Still, I was concerned that the movie was going to pull every manipulative string it could to emotionally destroy its audience members, focusing on graphic violence more than was necessary. Instead, director Michael Winterbottom set out to simply tell Mariane Pearl's story, which he does with honesty and compassion.
Winterbottom's true-to-life direction style is exhausting. There are countless scenes of the bustling city of Karachi, so many car horns blasting and jostling camera work as the characters race to find Daniel that it leaves viewers dizzy with frustration and helplessness. This is not a glamorous story, and it's not glamorized. There is even a rather alarming suggestion that torture is a viable — and successful — means of deriving information. Winterbottom neither sugarcoats nor does he go too far in revealing the graphic horrors of this story. In aiming for such truthful storytelling, he also got a great deal out of Jolie. His way of following actors closely with the camera and encouraging improvisational behavior works superbly on film: Jolie's aggravation is extremely palpable.
Yet viewers going solely to gawk at Jolie in her brown contacts and wig will be sorely missing the point. Yes, she's remarkable at capturing Mariane's struggle and strength, in addition to her unique accent and charisma. But this movie isn't about Angelina Jolie. In fact, I left with the sense that many of the little things in life that we concentrate on are painfully insignificant.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Vantage