A Mighty Heart (DVD)
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie finally proves her Oscar win wasn't a fluke. This is her best performance and it's now on DVD. Oscar voters, keep this one at the top of your stack.
High Value Hostage
Angelina Jolie and Dan Futterman as Mariane and Daniel Pearl
Photo: Paramount Vantage
A Mighty Heart arrived in theatres in June and performed a quick disappearing act. That's truly unfortunate on a couple fronts. For one, this movie deserves a much wider audience. For another, releasing a straightforward drama revolving around a particularly grim, true-life situation at the height of the summer blockbuster season wasn't the brightest move on the part of Paramount Pictures, which released the movie through its Paramount Vantage art house division.
Hopefully this one will now find its audience on DVD. With all the finger-pointing that goes on among the different political parties around the world, this is an important story that needs to be told. It's most certainly not a cut and dry world with easy answers and easy explanations regarding what motivates different people.
Through his travels, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl hoped to gain a better understanding of this world.
Back in January 2002, he traveled to Karachi, Pakistan, with his pregnant wife, Mariane, while in pursuit of one more interview for a story about the shoe bomber, Richard Reid. Warned on more than one occasion to stay in public places, Daniel nonetheless found himself rerouted from a restaurant to a remote location. Already disoriented by the unfamiliar, chaotic surroundings of urban Karachi, the change in plans caught Daniel off guard.
Daniel failed to return to his wife that evening. As time passed, the situation turned desperate and Mariane sought help from fellow journalists and diplomats to find her husband.
An incredible search began, routing terrorists and their accomplices. Unfortunately, after tracking down his captors and attempting to bring the hostage situation to a peaceful conclusion, Daniel's body was found one month later. In 10 pieces.
A Mighty Heart calls to mind United 93, the Paul Greengrass' movie about the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, and Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott's telling of American soldiers trapped on the streets of Mogadishu. All three share the themes of terrorism and the shockwaves those despicable acts cause, not only for the victims and their loved ones, but for the innumerable innocents affected by the ripple effects.
That said, A Mighty Heart proves to be more engrossing and interesting to watch than United 93. For one thing, the use of handheld camera work feels less gimmicky – and works more effectively – under Michael Winterbottom's direction.
On the other hand, A Mighty Heart's slow-simmer storytelling doesn't quite create the same harrowing tension of Black Hawk Down.
Perhaps part of that underlying lack of sufficient tension is because the story is told strictly through the eyes of Daniel's wife (and the movie is based on her book of the same title). While Daniel's ultimate fate is revealed by Mariane at the film's end as she recaps a small portion of what Daniel endured, the movie could have gained more power by integrating, in tandem with the search, Daniel's attempts to escape and the harsh treatments with which his actions were greeted.
Another flaw in the presentation is that the movie immediately throws Daniel into his precarious situation without spending enough time introducing him to the audience and providing important information about the kind of man Daniel was.
While more background about Danny and his personality is revealed at the film's end; those scenes would perhaps have been more helpful if placed at the beginning of the movie in order to give viewers a greater sense of the life that's on the line. Daniel Pearl was a well-traveled, culturally-minded and culturally-sensitive writer, but casual observers might not fully understand how the carefully-choreographed abduction robbed the world of a very bright man.
I Am Not Terrorized
Those issues aside, Angelina Jolie's performance as Mariane Pearl is a tremendous accomplishment; the power of that role alone makes A Mighty Heart an easy recommendation. Mariane presented herself as the epitome of grace under pressure, a woman who maintained her composure in the face of life-altering adversity and a woman who chose to take a diplomatic and global perspective of her situation.
Faced with terrorists who chose to blame The Mossad for the 9/11 attacks (after all, their reasoning goes, 4,000 Jews did not go to work at the World Trade Center that day), Mariane had to keep an even keel — her husband, after all, was Jewish.
When Daniel's body was discovered, the news naturally hit Mariane hard. With a baby boy due in only three months, her entire world was turned upside down. Jolie captures her tumult with unreserved anguish; her screams, loud and painful, send shivers down the spine.
With no choice but to move on, Mariane's response was one of immediate bridge-building. After all, in the same month her husband was killed, 10 Pakistanis were also murdered by terrorists.
"I am not terrorized." Those were the simple words the thin, eloquent Parisian told the global media, refusing to cave in to those who try to enlist the miserable into a new kind of world war. In the process, Mariane Pearl showed to the world a strength and a resolve that is well worth remembering and emulating.
The supplemental features are fairly minimal. It would've been nice to have a commentary track with Mariane Pearl and Angelina Jolie, but at the same time it's understandable how that could be a potentially awkward and emotionally difficult thing for Mariane to do. Even so, a track with Jolie and Michael Winterbottom could have been informative. It also would have made for a nice package if an article or two by Daniel Pearl was included on the disc.
Instead, the disc has three supplemental items.
One, a Public Service Announcement featuring CNN's ace international reporter Christiane Amanpour, is an interesting little piece that can be viewed as a prelude to the movie or as its own element. The PSA invites viewers to support the Daniel Pearl Foundation and it effectively sets the stage for the movie.
A segment entitled Committee to Protect Journalists is an eight-minute look at the change in attitude toward journalists covering wars and how they have become less of a channel for the disparate factions in combat to voice their views and more of a pawn, a way of making a dramatic statement through their capture and, potentially, their torture and murder.
Finally, there's a "making of" documentary, entitled Journey of Passion. While roughly a third of the 30-minute runtime focuses on the cast's recollections of interviewing the real-life people involved, most of it falls back on the standard behind-the-scenes content. Aside from some photos and a snippet of an interview with Mariane Pearl that Jolie recreates in the movie, it's disappointing Mariane did not directly participate in this segment with some new comments.
Picture and Sound
The DVD's picture, presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16:9 TVs, is nice and crisp.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (available in English, French, and Spanish) is also excellent, surrounding the viewer in the madness of Karachi's traffic and markets. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
How to Use This DVD
Watch the movie. For first timers, it'd be beneficial to select the "Play Film with PSA Intro" option. For those curious about the state of journalists in global conflict, check out the Committee to Protect Jounalists featurette.
The "making of" documentary can be left for those who need a wee bit more of Angelina Jolie.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.