DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A MIGHTY HEART (director: Michael Winterbottom; screenwriters: John Orloff/based on the book “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl” by Mariane Pearl; cinematographer: Marcel Zyskind; editor: Peter Christelis; music: Harry Escott/Molly Nyman; cast: Angelina Jolie (Mariane Pearl), Dan Futterman (Danny Pearl), Archie Panjabi (Asra Q. Nomani), Irrfan Khan (Captain), Will Patton (Randall Bennett), Denis O’Hare (John Bussey), Adnan Siddiqui (Dost Aliani), Gary Wilmes (Steve LeVine), Nassim BenBrik (Adam); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Brad Pitt/Dede Gardner/Andrew Eaton; Paramount Vantage; 2007)

 
"Angelina Jolie puts her heart into the role of Danny Pearl's wife Mariane."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Prolific Brit filmmaker Michael Winterbottom ("The Road to Guantanamo"/"In This World"/"Welcome to Sarajevo") adapts Mariane Pearl's memoir, written with Sarah Crichton, “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl” for this gripping docudrama on the kidnapping and brutal beheading murder by jihad extremists in Karachi of Mariane's Wall Street Journal reporter husband Danny. He was researching a story on the captured shoe bomber Richard Reid, where he left a meeting with Pakistani authorities to attend a meeting with a source, the elusive Sheikh Gilani, in a public restaurant but this turned out to be a ruse as the taxi never delivered him there. After an extensive search by the Pakistani police, a tape materialized five weeks later showing the gruesome details of his execution. Mariane was six months pregnant at the time of the kidnapping on 1-23-20002. She subsequently gave birth to a son named Adam, and dedicated the book to him so he could know his father. It was filmed in India, Pakistan, France and the US.

The real-life drama of recent events is certainly scary and heart wrenching; it fills us in on the details a news organization like CNN might have missed or not widely reported despite its extensive coverage of the incident. The low key, cerebral and brave Dan Futterman makes for a convincing Danny Pearl, who is killed in part because he was an American Jew but also because he was used as a political pawn in the terrorists' holy war. Angelina Jolie puts her heart into the role of Danny Pearl's wife Mariane; she's a French Buddhist who during the tragedy veers from showing tremendous composure and an an iron will to outbursts of cursing (a foolish reason to give this film an R rating) to an emotional breakdown when she learns of her beloved husband's fate and gives off with a piercing wail of horror. 

The film gains importance as a record of historical importance, letting those who care to know find out who Danny Pearl was, the ordeal that was leveled on Mrs. Pearl and it provides in thriller form the police procedural details leading to the capture of the mastermind of the complex kidnapping scheme--the British-born Ahmed Omar Sheikh, who had spent years in an Indian jail for taking foreigners hostage in a bid in the 1980s to free imprisoned Kashmiri separatists but was released in an exchange of prisoners between the two countries. Mr. Winterbottom should be applauded for his good taste in not showing us that ghastly execution, a tape that Mariane sensibly refuses to see. It's a difficult film to reconstruct to satisfy everyone, especially as it is filmed so recently after the real event and its blood-curdling memory is still present in our minds, but Winterbottom lays out the facts and leaves it with a beating heart for the truth.

REVIEWED ON 8/4/2007        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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