Sometimes actors/actresses' personas become so large that it somehow takes away from what they do onscreen. Angelina Jolie is an example of that type of actress; it is hard to see her onscreen and see just the character not all the baggage she brings. For films like Tomb Raider and Mr. and Mrs. Smith they benefit from this hype, but with a film like A Mighty Heart Jolie's fame could be to its detriment. This film's success or failure rests on how much you believe Angelina is Mariane Pearl because the whole film is about her story and how she dealt with the brutal death of her husband.
To her credit, Jolie is such a good actress that her performance in A Mighty Heart makes you forget in parts who she is and see the incredibly strong woman that Jolie and director Michael Winterbottom (The Road to Guantanamo, Code 46) want you to. In sections Jolie's performance is so strong you will understand the Oscar buzz it created. The scenes of her finding out her husband is dead are incredibly well done and moving. She puts so much of herself there raw on the screen that at points you feel Marianne's pain as well. Everything she does is done with full commitment to the character, even her accent is almost flawless despite having to do many emotion packed scenes. You can feel that this is a story and a character that Jolie felt passionate about.
Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman – Judging Amy and Will and Grace) is a journalist for the Washington Post and he is in Pakistan doing research on the shoe bomber. Daniel arranges for a meeting with a Pakistani Sheikh and an unknown group kidnaps him. His wife, Mariane (Angelina Jolie – Tomb Raider, Girl, Interrupted), a French journalist who is five months pregnant, realizes that he is missing so she contacts the authorities.
As time goes on Mariane and the authorities begin to realize that her husband has been kidnapped. Different groups, including the CIA and Pakistani authorities, try to help her locate her husband, but the most effective are her friend Asra (Archie Panjabi – Bend It Like Beckham, A Good Year) and a local Pakistani police captain (Irfan Khan – The Namesake, Salaam Bombay).
It is a race against time trying to find Daniel and at times they feel as if they are close only to be frustrated. The story gains international notoriety and there are several false execution tapes that surface. Mariane is emotionally put through the wringer. Finally there is some definitive video proof of Daniel's death and Mariane becomes a very young and pregnant widow. Despite her grief, Mariane vows to try and find out what happened to her husband. She begins a quest to find out the how, where, what, and why of his death.
The focus of the film is most certainly on Mariane Pearl and not her husband. We are led through her struggle to try and find her kidnapped husband, her grief over his death and then her refusal to allow the death to go quietly into the night. She wanted answers and was not going to allow herself to be discouraged in her quest in trying to find them. Mariane is a foreign woman who is five months pregnant, just learnt her husband has been killed and wants to know why. Not wanting his death to be in vain, she looks to all sources for help.
Through her quest for the truth we learn much about the country of Pakistan and how things work in this area of the world. We learn of the tension between Pakistan and India. It is a film full of information. Without depicting Pakistan in a demeaning way, Winterbottom really gets at the chaos, overcrowding and poverty that is this country. Things work at a different pace in Pakistan and Mariane is often frustrated. We never feel we are supposed to look down at Pakistan, but rather the message is that Western ways don't work in this area of the world. It is us who has to change not them.
Much of the credit for Jolie's performance rather than her persona being allowed to speak for the character/film has to go to director Winterbottom. His choice of shooting the film in a sort of pseudo-documentary style makes sure the focus remains with the moving story rather than with its larger-than-life star. This is not a Hollywood picture in that there are no high drama scenes, explosions or much violence. The story and the woman are the stars and all other 'extras' are trimmed off. Due to this it won't be everyone's cup of tea as some might find it a bit slow moving, but it's definitely worth the time investment.
It is a film that shows the other side of terrorism and not how it affects the whole world or a country, but rather an individual family. He makes it very personal. Thinking about it further, it is not really a story of terrorism rather a love story and a wife who won't give up searching for the truth.
-A Journey of Passion: The Making of A Mighty Heart
– Daniel Pearl Foundation
– Committee to Protect Journalists