Kicking off in the UK what may be the most politically aware rush of movies weve seen for years, A Mighty Heart was overlooked back in the States amidst the typically brainless fodder of Summer inanity. Who wants to watch an edgy, topical drama about a harrowing real-life tragedy when you can go and see Rush Hour 3?
More suitably scheduled and arriving with a flurry of positive notices, A Mighty Heart tells a story that many will feel they already know. Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) and his wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie) are journalists who work and live in Pakistan. Mariane is heavily pregnant and before they leave the country Daniel goes out for one last interview. He is warned to be very careful: he never returns.
Frantic but hopeful, Mariane and those around her launch an investigation to find Daniel and ensure his safety. But in a land rife with animosity towards Westerners, their search is never easy. And as more evidence is uncovered, Mariane realises the situation is far greater in scale than anyone might have expected.
For those assuming that the combination of Angelina Jolie as star and husband Brad Pitt as producer would ensure a typically Hollywood-cookie-cutter version of events, rest assured: the film opens with a raw immediacy and never gives into clich. British director Michael Winterbottorm, known for his bold film choices, gives Heart the style of a docudrama but unlike Paul Greengrasss United 93, he manages to combine this with genuine emotion and the result is a film that is impossible not to become involved with.
Much was made of the choice of Jolie as the French bi-racial protagonist with many believing her to be miscast due to her physical differences to the real life Pearl. But the casting is about much more than simple physicality. In all the media coverage of Jolies private life, its easy to forget what a fine actress she really is. From the moment we see Jolie as Pearl, there is never a moment of doubt. Jolie delivers a fearless performance as a woman choosing dignity and rationality over blame and mania. Its one of the standout turns of the year and will hopefully remind people of Jolies position as one of the most talented actresses working today.
Its no great surprise where A Mighty Heart is going to end up, at least for those who are aware of the Pearl story and the knowledge of whats to come gives the film a horrifying sense of foreboding. Its a testament to the skill of screenwriter John Orloff that he still manages to give a film with a foregone conclusion such an unrelentless sense of urgency. When the finale comes around, the effect is devastating; made all the more so by a refusal to add any cloying sentimentality to the events.
What may be a sticking point for many is why an intelligent, seasoned journalist would willingly put himself in such a dangerous situation while his heavily pregnant wife is at home. Its a question addressed in a scene between Mariane and the minister of Pakistan, that may prove a leap of faith for many but serves as a much-needed reminder of the 230 journalists killed in the past 5 years while in the line of duty.
An unflinching and horribly prescient tale for our times, A Mighty Heart is a film that really begs to be seen. Jolies Oscar-worthy performance and a tense, pacey escalation of events make for compelling viewing. Its powerful in a way that only films based on true events really can be and unlike many of the forgettable, throwaway movies weve seen of late, itll stay with you for days.