The cynic in me says that it's easy to give Angelina Jolie the role of tortured wife or mother, because I know that she'll do such a good job with it that she'll get nominated for an Oscar. She got one as Christine Collins in Changeling, so she'd get one playing Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart. I hadn't seen her in either film until seeing her in A Mighty Heart, and my cynical side feels like a little bit of an arse now for dismissing it out of hand.
Heart was based on Pearl's book and directed by Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo). For those unfamiliar with the Mariane Pearl story, she was married to Daniel Pearl, who worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Together they lived in Pakistan while Daniel was writing a story on Al-Qaeda, Richard Reid (the "shoe bomber") and Pakistani intelligence services. The film shows the approximate two week period between late January and mid-February when Daniel was kidnapped, but does not show the kidnapping. Rather, the film's focus is on Mariane and her struggle to try and find Daniel. The investigation includes members of the American consulate (Will Patton) and Pakistani CID, along with representatives from the Wall Street journal, and the hurdles that they have to go through and the dead ends they run up against in order to get Daniel home. All the while Mariane, who is five months pregnant while all of this goes on, remains surprisingly level-headed. The only reason for this can be that because Mariane might think that worrying is a selfish or even futile effort. It doesn't get Daniel home any quicker if this occurs.
And Mariane's coping with this sudden upheaval makes Jolie's performance outstanding. Putting her next to Mariane, the resemblance is striking, but Jolie's inflection absorbs her into the role. When she finds out about Daniel's death and that it was definitive (an earlier report days earlier proved to be false), her reaction is raw and visceral, and she turns in the most emotionally effecting performance of her career. Winterbottom shoots the film in predominantly handheld fashion, and that helps reinforce the feel of being in the room with Mariane when all of this occurs. Unlike other films set in similar landscapes, the film stays as close to the events of Pearl's disappearance (and the subsequent investigation) as possible. There are a couple of open-ended scenes which could lead to interpretation, but these scenes are brief and are but a minor distraction in the final result.
There is one scene, after Mariane finds out about Daniel, and she has a dinner made for those involved in the investigation that ultimately was fruitless. She thanks them for their time and effort, and reminds them that what was done to Daniel was for the sake of terrorizing and scaring people. Mariane is quick to mention that several other Pakistani journalists were killed in the same month than Daniel was in a television interview, but she was not/is not scared by their actions, and she shouldn't feel that others should be either. Muslim is not a bad religion; it's the actions of those who commit acts of barbarism in its name that should be punished. I'll close with the words of Daniel's father Judea, who wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal recently on the anniversary of Daniel's death as he shared his thoughts on what's occurred since then:
"I believe it all started with well-meaning analysts, who in their zeal to find creative solutions to terror decided that terror is not a real enemy, but a tactic. Thus the basic engine that propels acts of terrorism -- the ideological license to elevate one's grievances above the norms of civilized society -- was wished away in favor of seemingly more manageable "tactical" considerations."
"...Danny's picture is hanging just in front of me, his warm smile as reassuring as ever. But I find it hard to look him straight in the eyes and say: You did not die in vain."
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 2.35:1 1080p widescreen presentation Paramount uses for A Mighty Heart is presumably the same one used for the prior HD DVD release, and the results are decent enough. Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind (28 Days Later) keeps the grittiness of the Indian and Pakistani exteriors true to life without many shots of perspective or multidimensional feel to them. Things were shot very naturally without any reference quality blacks or image detail to pick over either. This VC-1 encoded transfer looks as good as it's going to, both if you've got the red copy, don't bother switching over.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is also the apparent same one that the HD DVD uses. The dialogue sounds clear, though it does bleed into the front channel from time to time. But the Karachi streets, bustling with activity, provide some nice moments of fanning from left to right (and vice versa). Directional effects in the rear channels are minimal, but there is subwoofer engagement early on in the first which I hardly was expecting. Overall this is solid without dropping any jaws.
There are a few things here, but it still feels pretty light, supplementally speaking. "A Journey of Passion" (30:03) is the making of look at the film, with interviews from the cast and from Winterbottom. Each discusses what they brought to the production, how they prepared for it, and their thoughts on the people they were portraying. They also talk about their thoughts on the other cast and crew, and how Winterbottom ran the shoot. Things wrap up with final thoughts from everyone. It's nice in intention, but the ground covered is like scores of other pieces. A public service announcement on the Pearl Foundation, read by Christiane Amanpour follows (2:08). The Committee to Project Journalists is a group designed to protect journalists' rights from government or insurgent intervention. The roots are recalled, the committee's position through the years is included, and the impact on 9/11 is pondered. The committee members recall the Pearl events, and it wraps up with how things have changed for journalists since the committee started (8:40). All in all it's a decent look. The film's trailer (2:23) in high definition completes the disc.
Don't do what I did and dismiss A Mighty Heart out of hand. It's a compelling story told very well by one of the best actresses in the business. The technical qualities have me feeling a little barren, but it's a definite upgrade of the standard definition disc. I'd hold out for what could be a better edition down the road though.