A Mighty Heart

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Review by © Jane Freebury

As journalist Daniel Pearl disappears into the Karachi traffic on his way to his last interview, it hardly seems reasonable to expect him to emerge safely again from the chaos. The streets of Pakistan’s largest city are a swarm of vehicles, a vast cacophonous mass of buses, bicycles, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars and pedestrians trying to find a way ahead.

British director Michael Winterbottom handles the chaos with ease and makes the sights and sounds of Karachi, one of the world’s most populous cities, play an important part in his film.

A Mighty Heart is based on the memoir of Mariane Pearl, a French public radio journalist whose husband Daniel Pearl, then South Asia Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and infamously murdered in early 2002. This film is dedicated to her son Adam, whom she was carrying at the time.

We all know what happened to Pearl in the end, yet despite our foreknowledge of his ghastly beheading, this masterful thriller maintains tension throughout. Where else but at the movies would you almost find yourself hoping that the missing journalist might still be found in time?

The film is made in documentary style with a fluid and responsive camera, with good documentary detail about Karachi, though the production had to re-locate to India for security reasons. It also documents those months immediately post 9/11, when a seismic shift took place in world affairs.

While behind the drama the rhythms of life continue unbroken, day in and day out of the five-week ordeal.

With ensemble staging, camerawork and editing Winterbottom has managed to turn Jolie’s lights down and integrate his A-list Hollywood star into the group that gathers to try to find Pearl. Jolie herself is very good as the strong, contained and dignified Mariane.

Winterbottom is a man in a hurry. He has made 15 films – including Welcome to Sarajevo, Tristram Shandy, and 24 Hour Party People, mostly excellent – in the last 13 years. But it isn’t his style to worry away at the causes and implications of things, but to respond briskly with an opinion, like a journalist. I do wonder whether he has given more thought to his acceptance of the explanations in is The Road to Guantanamo as to why his protagonists were in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’.

There are good people all around Mariane during her ordeal, including Asra, her host at in Karachi and the newly appointed Pakistani counter-terrorism chief known as Captain (Irfan Khan). A Mighty Heart doesn’t help us make much more sense of the tragedy, though it does apply some balm to the wound.

4 stars