Based on the memoir of his widow, Mariane Pearl, the stunning 'A Mighty Heart' revolves around the 2002 kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
On so many levels, "A Mighty Heart" is almost as excruciating to write about as it is to watch. It has many of the virtues of a first-rate political thriller, and yet who can think of it in those terms?
Based on the memoir of his widow, Mariane Pearl, it's about the 2002 kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and the five-week hunt for the Islamist terrorists who would prove to be his killers.
Danny, played by actor and "Capote" screenwriter Dan Futterman, is first introduced to us in Karachi, Pakistan, where he is running down a story about would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid. Recently arrived from Afghanistan, where both he and the pregnant Mariane, played by Angelina Jolie, were covering the post-9/11 US bombings, Danny is quickly lured into a treacherous endgame with his captors.
The brief shot of him waving goodbye to Mariane as he gets into a cab is ominous in the extreme. From that point on, except for a few subsequent moments with Danny on his fated rounds, and a couple of flash backs to his wedding day and marital bliss, we never see him again. His absence is the movie's strongest presence.
As with Mariane, and the expanding circle of advisers and friends who attempt to locate Danny, we are put in the harrowing position of ferreting out the facts of his disappearance piece by piece. We, unlike the protagonists, know the outcome, which adds an extra layer of despair.
Directed with tense docudrama exactness by Michael Winterbottom, from a screenplay by John Orloff, "A Mighty Heart" is, in one sense, an anatomy of how people under extreme duress keep the faith. When Danny's parents, after reports that he has gone missing, hear the news that he has been kidnapped, they are jubilant. It means he's alive. When Mariane sees the video of Danny as a captive, she reads defiance in his body language.