You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Mighty Heart

Sad saga of slain reporter Danny Pearl makes it to the bigscreen with facts, figures and beating heart intact.

Mariane Pearl - Angelina Jolie Danny Pearl - Dan Futterman Captain - Irrfan Khan John Bussey - Denis O'Hare Asra - Archie Panjabi Randall Bennett - Will Patton Steve LeVine - Gary Wilmes

The sad saga of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl has made it to the bigscreen with facts, figures and beating heart intact in “A Mighty Heart.” In his first studio venture, Michael Winterbottom coaxes forth a staggering wealth of detail from this terse, methodical account of Pearl’s kidnapping and murder in Pakistan, seen through the eyes of those who sought his return. Given audiences’ resistance to films dealing with 9/11 and its aftermath, soberly restrained pic reps a mighty tough sell, though Angelina Jolie’s performance as Pearl’s widow should broaden prospects for the June 22 Stateside release.

Adapting Mariane Pearl’s harrowing memoir, director Winterbottom, who previously ventured into Mideast politics with “In This World” and “The Road to Guantanamo,” proves to be just the man for the task. Though the prolific British chameleon isn’t one to make the same film twice, his gifts for docudrama storytelling — an ability to shepherd complicated narratives, avoiding every opportunity for sensationalism in favor of a low-key mounting dread — couldn’t be better suited to the material.

Having covered the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Pearls were working as journalists in Karachi, Pakistan, on Jan. 23, 2002 — the day Danny (“Capote” scribe Dan Futterman), chasing a story about foiled shoe bomber Richard Reid, got into a cab and never returned. Sticking close to the very pregnant Mariane (Jolie), pic recounts the restless five-week search for the man’s whereabouts and his kidnappers’ identities, all accompanied by a hailstorm of media attention.

Screenplay crisply diagrams the labyrinth of false leads and fruitless interrogations with various middlemen Danny may have had contact with on the night of his disappearance. Suspicion ultimately comes to rest on the elusive Omar Saeed Sheikh (Alyy Khan), a known Islamic militant with a history of kidnapping foreigners.

Like his fellow suspects, Sheikh is seen only briefly, and in the most objective possible light. Working in the brisk, discursive style of a police procedural, Winterbottom scrupulously follows the rescue effort, step by agonizing step — ensuring that the audience is never given additional information despite its foreknowledge of the tragic outcome. Even larger political questions — the implications, say, of a scene in which a Pakistani suspect is strung up and interrogated, or the grim irony of a journalist couple facing intense media scrutiny — are subjugated to the flow of the storytelling.

Along the way, pic also manages to sketch vivid portraits of Mariane’s key supporters and allies. These include Danny’s tough-minded colleague, Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi); a local cop (Irrfan Khan), known simply as Captain, determined not to let the case soil Pakistan’s reputation; American diplomatic security agent Randall Bennett (Will Patton), who tends to see the silver lining in all bad news; and Wall Street Journal higher-up John Bussey (Denis O’Hare), who arrives in Pakistan after news of the ordeal, a comforting but resilient figure.

But this is ultimately — and very intimately — Mariane Pearl’s story, and much of it rests on Jolie, who fits comfortably into the naturalistic mold that shapes the entire ensemble. Though Jolie sports a big belly, a high-coiffed hairstyle and a very challenging accent (raised in France, Mariane is of Afro-Cuban and Dutch descent), this isn’t the sort of commanding star turn in which the performer vanishes behind a well-known celebrity mask, but rather a subdued, carefully considered portrait of a woman caught between premature grief and persistent hope.

Jolie plays Mariane as sharp and prickly, but also highly principled and completely devoted to her husband. Wisely, Winterbottom opts to shoot her more high-pitched outbursts from a distance or in near-darkness, as if refusing to milk more histrionics than necessary.

Occasional subdued flashbacks to happier days from Mariane and Danny’s marriage, including a very brief love scene, add emotional texture even as they take something away from the film’s otherwise unsentimental approach.

Pic negotiates its way around another potential landmine — to show or not to show the widely circulated video of Pearl’s murder — re-creating a very brief, non-graphic snippet of the contentious footage and getting the facts across with the utmost restraint.

Shot on location in Pakistan, India and France, the film gains considerable authenticity and momentum from its handheld HD lensing by Winterbottom’s regular d.p., Marcel Zyskind, and Peter Christelis’ rapid editing, rarely allowing a shot to last more than a few seconds.

A Mighty Heart

Production: A Paramount Vantage release (in U.S.) and presentation of a Plan B Entertainment/Revolution Films production. Produced by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Andrew Eaton. Co-producer, Anita Overland. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Screenplay, John Orloff, based on the book "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband, Danny Pearl" by Mariane Pearl.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, HD-to-35mm, Arri widescreen), Marcel Zyskind; editor, Peter Christelis; music, Molly Nyman, Harry Escott; production designer, Mark Digby; art director, David Bryan; set decorator, Emma Field-Rayner; costume designer, Charlotte Walter; sound recordist (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Richard Flynn; supervising sound editor, Joakim Sundstrom; makeup and hair designer, Marese Langan; assistant director, Mike Elliott; casting, Wendy Brazington. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (noncompeting), May 21, 2007. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 103 MIN.

With: Mariane Pearl - Angelina Jolie Danny Pearl - Dan Futterman Captain - Irrfan Khan John Bussey - Denis O'Hare Asra - Archie Panjabi Randall Bennett - Will Patton Steve LeVine - Gary WilmesWith: Alyy Khan. (English, French, Urdu, Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Bill Murray

    Bill Murray to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award From Wes Anderson at Rome Festival

    The Rome Film Festival will celebrate Bill Murray with its lifetime achievement award, which will be presented to him by Wes Anderson. Anderson, who has directed Murray in some of his most iconic roles, most notably in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and in several other films such as “The Darjeeling Limited,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Grand Budapest [...]

  • CLOSE QUARTERS – In Disney and

    'Toy Story 4': 5 Takeaways From Opening Weekend

    Despite arriving below expectations, “Toy Story 4” did huge business this weekend with ticket sales surpassing $118 million in North America. As sequels hailing from beloved franchises continue to flounder at the box office, Disney and Pixar’s cartooned fourquel is a much-needed win for the movie business. It now ranks among the top debuts for [...]

  • Prince Death

    Prince’s ‘Batman' at 30: How the Film Saved His Career From ‘Horrible’ Financial Straits

    As the movie that ushered in both the modern-day superhero genre and a new peak in the art of saturation marketing, Tim Burton’s “Batman” has a legacy that’s hard to overstate. Virtually everything associated with the 1989 comic-book adaptation became a cultural phenomenon, from Burton’s mischievous, mainstream-goth aesthetic to the meta-narrative of the film’s record-breaking [...]

  • Lucrecia MartelVenice Film Festival 2017, Italy

    Argentina's Lucrecia Martel Named Venice Jury President

    Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel has been named the president of the jury at this year’s Venice Film Festival, the event’s 76th edition. Venice chief Alberto Barbera praised Martel as “Latin America’s most important female director and one of the top female directors worldwide,” adding that she had achieved this status with just “four feature films [...]

  • NEW TOY? – Everyone’s favorite pull-string

    China Box Office: 'Toy Story 4' Beaten by Old Animated Film 'Spirited Away'

    Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” has debuted to record-breaking opening weekends all over the world – but not in China, where it was soundly beaten by a nearly 20-year-old Japanese anime classic, Ghibli Studios’ “Spirited Away.” While “Toy Story 4” made film history in territories around the world with the largest-ever three-day opening for [...]

  • The Wolf Hour

    Shanghai Film Review: 'The Wolf Hour'

    Run a finger along any of the surfaces in Alistair Banks Griffin’s sophomore feature “The Wolf Hour,” and it will come up slicked with sweat, grime and the residual soot of the city. It is the summer of 1977,  and it’s hotter than hell. June Leigh (Naomi Watts) perches on the window sill of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content