A review of “A Mighty Heart” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for language and very adult themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

 

 

The horror and heartbreak of Daniel Pearl’s untimely death is uneasily re-created in this jittery drama based on Mariane Pearl’s biographical novel.

Pearl (Dan Futterman) was the South Asia Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal in January of 2002; unquestionably at the top of his game when things went badly south. He was living in the third-world environs of Karachi, Pakistan with wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie), herself a seasoned freelance journalist pregnant with their first child.  

Pearl was following a hot lead for an intrepid story on “shoe bomber” Richard Reid when he disappeared, absorbed into a volatile world of byzantine bureaucracy and burgeoning terrorist cells that festered on a relentless diet of suspicion and anger.

For Mariane her husband’s disappearance was every spouse’s nightmare come true, an unfolding crisis for which crack journalistic skills and depth of feeling were useless tools in the face of international catastrophe.

The initial hours and days of Pearl’s disappearance are the focus of “Heart”, palpable with dread and the definitive knowledge of a tragic result. Political snafus and red tape unfold as the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty claims responsibility for Pearl’s kidnapping, claiming he’s a CIA spy and giving the U.S. two short days to meet their demands.

It helps to know your Middle East politics as “Heart” is a labyrinth of corruption and buzz words that resonate with anxiety and afford some narrative confusion. Its docudrama style makes for a dry and caustic aura that’s melodramatic backload is intermittently lightened by flashbacks accounting for the couple’s happier days.

Jolie is at the heart of it all; her Mariane the crux of the story and the focal point onscreen. Unfortunately hers is a presence rather than a performance, a larger-than-life manifestation that can’t help but reflect her tabloid-heavy personal life and swallow up the dramatic subtleties of which she is exceedingly capable.

Supporting players Irrfan Khan and Archie Panjabi, as a police captain and Pearl friend/colleague respectively, lend the right measure of integrity without the high-profile glare.