A Mighty Heart
Director: Michael Winterbottom (Road to Guantanamo, Tristram Shandy, 24 Hour Party People, Wonderland)
Writer: Timur Bekmambetov
Novel: Sergei Lukyanenko, Vladimir Vasiliev
Producers: Konstantin Ernst, Anatoli Maksimov
Starring: Dan Futterman, Angelina Jolie, Archie Panjabi, Irfan Khan
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 100 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Andrew James
     Here's an extremely depressing yet moving film that is fascinating, heartwrenching, lesson giving and touching all at the same time. A roller coaster of emotions in this true life story of Daniel Perl; not the least of which was frustration.

      For those that never open a newspaper or watch the news, Daniel Perl was a journalist for the "Wall Street Journal." Following the events of September 11th, 2001, Daniel traveled to the middle east along with his wife, Marianne, and their unborn child. Just before they were to leave Pakistan, Daniel stays an extra day to get one last interview. Unexpectedly, he was abducted and held captive for more than 10 days before he was brutally murdered. A Mighty Heart is Marianne's desperate struggle to locate Danny and bring him home safely.

      While the rave and draw for this film in recent weeks has been Angelina Jolie's performance, I'm not quite ready to hand her another Oscar statue just yet. While as Jolie performances go, it's extremely well paced and her subtle, "less is more" approach to the role works really well and is a total departure for her normal fare, it isn't really a role that couldn't have been filled by any number of actresses. To go further, I feel that because she is the only truly recognizable face in the entire cast (or at least to mainstream film goers), she's actually a little distracting in the role. It's hard to watch the film, not knowing anyone, then see Angelina Jolie who sticks out like a sore thumb. This is really too bad, because as I said, her performance is exteremely well thought out and her Parisian accent with a dash of a middle-eastern feel seems to work really well and not forced. Let's just say that the clip they play during her nominations at the Oscars will be a no-brainer.

      The treat of the film, if that word can be used, is a glimpse at the investigative techniques used by the authorities. The film looks at how cell phones can be traced, IP addresses referenced and the importance of a hard drive. Most interesting is how the use of torture is portrayed in the film. I won't give it away, but let's just say you'll leave thinking about it quite a fair bit.

      Much of the film (if not all of it) is shot using hand held cameras almost giving it a news reel footage feel in a lot of cases. This is a nice tactic in many cases, but during some raids and arrests throughout the film, the camera shakes a bit too much and covers some of the action going on. A minor gripe, but a valid one nonetheless.

      I mentioned above my feeling of frustration. Though I'm sure that that is exactly what the filmmakers intended, it is still an uncomfortable feeling to know that everything that is happening in the movie is futile when we know how it will turn out. If you don't know, you need to read more news. This feeling of futility, frustration and anger is not always how I want to feel when leaving a theater. Though the argument could be made that Marianne didn't want this feeling either, but sometimes there are things we cannot control and hence, frustration. So although at first I looked upon this frustration and anger as a drawback to the film, now I think that it is of positive credit to the film in what it is trying to convey to its audience.

      We don't see much of Daniel (played by Dan Futterman)himself. Most of his screen time is in flashbacks of Marianne thinking about and remembering him. We do see a bit of his travel route leading up to the kidnapping, but nothing after that is revealed. The director has taken care to only show us what we know. There is no speculation or re-creations as to what we think might've happened to Daniel during his time in captivity. His unfortunate, brutal end is thankfully never shown or heard. We can infer what happened by the faces of those in the room who watch the tragic video.

      One of the most interesting characters in the film is the city of Karachi itself. A claustrophobic, chaotic city bustling with activity. It's hard to discern where we are at any time and where we might be going. The camera could've circled the same block ten times and it might be difficult to get one's bearings. A great look at a foreign city that I'll likely never see.

      Speaking of confusion, there are parts of the story that are hard to follow a bit. We can get the gist of what is happening and who we're looking for, but there are so many names and faces being tossed around willy-nilly that it is difficult to understand or follow the timeline of events for Daniel that the authorities are trying to piece together. To make matters worse, most of the names being tossed around are Islamic names; which are one: hard to pronounce for westerners and second: several of them are similar or even have the same first or last name. This got confusing and I still don't know who was who and why we were going after certain people.

      Basically this is a depressing but powerful movie. It tells a story that needs to be told and tells it in a compassionate yet realistic way. Jolie's performance is very likely Oscar worthy, but also distracting in the fact that she is the only A-list, recognizable face in the entire picture. Worth a look? Most definitely, if you can handle the pain.

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IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Official Site