Film review – A Mighty Heart (2007)

In 2002 Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and executed in Karachi, Pakistan by an extremist Islamic group with alleged ties to al-Qaeda. Bringing Pearl’s story to the screen could have resulted in a film of appalling sensationalism but instead the prolific and eclectic director Michael Winterbottom has done the job with non-judgemental restraint. A Mighty Heart examines the media storm and investigation surrounding Pearl’s kidnapping; focusing on the effect it had on his pregnant wife Mariane Pearl (Angelina Jolie) and how she responded.

Winterbottom has dealt with post-9/11 fallout before with In This World and The Road to Guantanamo. As in all of his recent films Winterbottom uses handheld cameras and films scenes on location with the actors performing among the local people. In the case of A Mighty Heart this conveys the everyday chaos on the streets of Karachi and gives the film a natural tension and drama that never feels manipulative.

The tight ensemble cast of journalist friends, Pakistani police and security service personnel all shine but the film really does belong to Jolie whose stunning performance is a career best and a powerful dedication to the strength and bravery of the real life Mariane Pearl.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 290, 2007

© Thomas Caldwell, 2007