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Films >> Mighty Heart, A (2007) >>

Anyone who cared to see A Mighty Heart would have known from the start that the outcome wasn’t going to be a typical Hollywood ending. As San Francisco Chronicle’s Ruthe Stein stated, “A feel-good movie, the swiftest kind to sell, it is not.” The reception from critics, however, mostly concurs that director Michael Winterbottom has successfully balanced his sense of style (quasi-documentary), the somber story of a kidnap and execution, and Angelina Jolie’s star power compellingly enough to create a story that is bound to move any audience. Jolie’s performance is both physically and emotionally convincing, while never over-stepping her theatrical boundaries to appear forced or made up. As Roger Ebert mentions, “What is best about A Mighty Heart is that it doesn’t reduce the Daniel Pearl story to a plot, but elevates it to a tragedy.” A tragedy of the sort that reminds its viewers that Pearl’s story is not one of only personal catastrophe but, as well, political theater on behalf of his captors.

The film doesn’t shed much light on or speculate about the actual kidnappers’ plot. Winterbottom and screen writer John Orloff wanted to focus as closely on Mariane Pearl’s experience as possible. The film has been criticized for these decisions, however. In the Washington Post Asra Nomani, a personal friend and colleague of Pearl’s for nine years, remarked that Danny was “Nowhere to be Found.” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw abrasively calls the film “nothing more than a very, very classy TV movie.” The conflicted reviews exist because of Winterbottom's choice to leave out factual aspects of Danny's personality. Close friends such as Nomani commented that the portrayal of his character seemed shallow. Critics felt that a movie based on a man's death would have had him more involved in the actual plot, but it was an intentional aim of Winterbottom and screenwriter John Orloff to portray the experience through Mariane's perspective -- which resulted in her husband's absence.

Berardinelli, James. "A Mighty Heart." ReelViews. 22 June 2007.
Berardinelli observes that although the film is about Danny Pearl, he does not have a great role on film aside from some brief flashbacks and shots while he is on the way to his interview with Sheikh Gilani. He also states, "Winterbottom elects to film the movie in pseudo-documentary style, employing lots of shaky handled camera shots." The perspective gained makes the audience feel like they are included in the action. In contrast to other reviewers who had remarked the film as categorized like somewhat of a thriller, Berardinelli states that was not Winterbottom's goal. He continues to say that "Despite its curiously stoic tone, A Mighty Heart retains its capacity to fascinate and intrigue." What Berardinelli does cleverly state is that Winterbottom "uses words, not images, to clarify Daniel's fate, and Mariane's unwillingness to view her husband's murder becomes a major point late in the film." Although this film may not be the most historically complete, its inside and personal view gives a vantage point that might not have been recognized otherwise.
Bradshaw, Peter. "A Mighty Heart." The Guardian 21 Friday 2007.
Bradshaw makes some mention of the "frantic detective work" on the authorities' behalf but ultimately dismisses any notion of a genuine effort to portray reality. Despite other critics' praise of Mariane's strength and courage, Bradshaw states nothing more than "The emphasis, ultimately, is on the passive figure of Mariane, who has nothing to do but be very, very brave." In this critic's opinion, A Mighty Heart amounts to nothing more than a "very, very classy TV movie."
Dargis, Manohla. "Using the Light of a Star to Illuminate Ugly Truths." New York Times 22 June 2007.
Dargis at first seems to suggest doing what some less informed critics might do upon hearing about the two superstar names attached to this film. Despite having Angelina Jolie as the lead actress and her partner Brad Pitt as a producer, Dargis cautions those who might choose to "snigger." She declares this movie "as jolting as it is polished, as well as a surprising, insistently political work of commercial art." The combination of politics, religion, poverty and terrorism are all integrated in a spectacular fashion. Like other reviewers, she notes the film's consistency with the arc of the memoir written by Mariane Pearl the year after Danny was beheaded. As well, she notes the film's fast pace that has the "metabolism" of a thriller while showing the structural integrity of a "police procedural." Dargis comments that Winterbottom's "jittery" use of the camera added to the chaos of what Pakistan might look like from the inside out.
Ebert, Roger. "A Mighty Heart." Chicago Sun Times 22 June 2007.
Ebert praises Jolie, for her character stands at the forefront of the film. "Jolie's performance depends above all on inner conviction; she reminds us, as we saw in some of her earlier films like Girl Interrupted (1999), that she is a skilled actress and not merely a Tomb Raider." Ebert stresses Winterbottom's intentions through what he left out and what he focused on. Motivations and personalities of the kidnappers were not as essential to the film as sticking to Mariane's perspective. An interesting contrast between Ebert and other reviewers is that he categorizes the film as a "thriller." "Many thrillers depend on action, conflict, triumph and defeat. This one depends on impotence and frustration." He equates the hatred that runs rampant in our world to a "mad dog" whose attacks are only justified in its own mind, much like that of Daniel Pearl's kidnappers and murderer.
French, Philip. "A Mighty Heart." The Guardian 23 Sept 2007.
French praises his fellow countryman, Michael Winterbottom, calling him "the most versatile and prolific moviemaker this country has ever produced." French's review is pertinent because of his remarks about past films that Winterbottom has directed. Those films include Welcome to Sarajevo, In This World, and The Road to Guantanamo, the latter two of which were made post 9/11 along with A Mighty Heart. French voices the same aspects of the film as do the other critics regarding its documentary feel from the perspective of Mariane Pearl, played by Angelina Jolie. He cites two more "political thrillers," Three Days of the Condor and Missing. The former deals with the CIA and its office inside one of the Twin Towers and focuses on the past life of an agent and the "intelligence" life he once led. The latter is about a man who searches for a son gone missing during Pinochet's anti-Allende coup in Chile.
Hoberman, J. "Mighty Heart, Mightier Spotlight." Village Voice 12 June 2007.
Hoberman calls A Mighty Heart "A mondo-global, insanely urgent, staccato procedural in which each shot arrives like a bulletin." He comments on, like the rest of the field of critics, the true nature that the film follows with respect to Mariane's memoir. Jolie's performance is noted as iconic, and all fireworks are saved for her "big scene" assuming to be when she is told of Danny's murder.
Muller, Bill. Rev. of A Mighty Heart, dir. Michael Winterbottom. Arizona Republic 22 June 2007.
"A Mighty Heart, the story of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, does the important things well." Muller seems to complement director Winterbottom for maintaining some resonance with the Iraq war but ultimately resisting the urge to enter into a phase of "pure rhetoric." The praise shifts to criticism when Muller suggests that the film would have been more impactful as a documentary, and the casting of Angelina Jolie in a relatively unrecognizable group of cast members is questioned. By conceding that the film isn't a documentary, Muller then faults the film for being boring, and he says "the only drama comes in the waiting, which eventually becomes tiresome."
Nomani, Asra Q. "A Mighty Shame." Washington Post 24 June 2007: B01.
Nomani takes a very personal stance, which is to be expected. Having worked with Danny on the Journal for so long, she became a close friend, and the two shared a two-way confidant-type relationship. She remarks, "The character I saw on film was flat – nerdy, bland and boring." Because Nomani lived through this event (and is, in fact, a character in the film), she claims that the creative license that Hollywood took "reprogrammed" her memory. In Nomani's mind, Hollywood has taken something very personal and twisted it into something unlike what she knew to be true. In an effort to expose the real truths about Danny's story, Nomani has established the Pearl Project (a joint faculty-student investigative reporting project at Georgetown University), which will aim to find out who killed Daniel Pearl and why.
Puig, Claudia. Rev. of A Mighty Heart, dir. Michael Winterbottom. USA Today 24 June 2007.
"A Mighty Heart is emotionally and viscerally compelling and retains a suspenseful, edge-of-the-seat quality. Though director Michael Winterbottom doesn't soften the gritty realities, he artfully avoids any sense of exploitation or sensationalism. . . . The acting is first-rate, particularly the nuanced performance of Jolie, who transforms into Mariane Pearl. Jolie's star power threatened to eclipse the overall story, but, fortunately, she plays her character with an understatement that allows us to forget we are watching one-half of the world's most photographed couple." This review overall praises the film for its accuracy and tact in its retelling such a tragic tale. In the last sentence Puig suggests that A Mighty Heart should be recognized "alongside the best films that seek to re-create a shattering time in our recent history."
Stein, Ruthe. "A Woman's Love Conquers Her Terror." San Francisco Chronicle 22 June 2007.
Stein, like the rest of the reviewers, praises Angelina Jolie: "Jolie inhabits the role, her penetrating eyes and the body language reflecting Mariane's terror and helplessness as the situation escalates." Stein mentions Dan Futterman in relation to Danny Pearl as well: "Futterman's physical resemblance to Pearl is unsettling. But the actor uses it to create a sense of getting to know this courageous journalist and devoted husband." She notes that with Winterbottom's past films, he has a tendency of showing collateral damage of war. This film feels more truthful rather than something "puffed" up to be a commercial.
Turan , Kenneth. "A Mighty Heart." New York Times 22 June 2007.,0,1495001.story
Turan calls director Michael Winterbottom an expert. He applauds Winterbottom's ability to manufacture reality by "making us feel that we are right there among the crowds, the chaos, the complete foreignness of a remote part of the world." Turan describes editor Peter Christelis's task of being "quick and decisive," which adds to the film's sincerity. Although the film itself is quite emotional, Turan notes, "A Mighty Heart is most accurately viewed as a kind of political film noir, a tense and elaborate police procedural investigation of both what happened to Daniel Pearl and the herculean efforts expended by Americans and Pakistanis to try to rescue him before it was too late."
Vineberg, Steve. "Mighty Heart, Weak Drama." Christian Century 24 July 2007: 42.
Vineberg feels that the film has fallen short, citing Mariane's memoir and the HBO documentary The Journalist and the Jihadi as far more compelling than what Michael Winterbottom has produced. In Vineberg's estimation there was more to be taken from what the HBO documentary had to offer as far as Danny's story in connection with who Omar was. Although the screenwriter John Orloff has attested to keeping to Mariane's memoir, Vineberg feels his attempt was inconsistent. Like other critics, he agrees that Mariane is "impossible not to admire," but "admiration is a poor starting point for a drama."
Zacherak, Stephanie. "A Mighty Heart." 22 June 2007.
Zacherak compliments director Michael Winterbottom on his ability to interconnect politics and tragedy in a way that touches the audience, whether they know it or not. As he did in Welcome to Sarajevo and The Road to Guantanamo, Winterbottom is cunning in his techniques for taking politically charged content and portraying it onscreen passionately. Zacherak also comments on Jolie's performance as "a quiet performance, not a flashy one." This compliment is important because it further insinuates that Jolie's star-power does not overcome her role as Mariane Pearl.