By Ray Bennett
CANNES – Michael Winterbottom’s expertly fashioned documentary-style drama “A Mighty Heart” relates the intense manhunt launched in Pakistan when jihadists kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. Angelina Jolie delivers a well-measured and moving performance as the reporter’s wife, Mariane.
With the BBC’s Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston now missing and believed kidnapped for 70 days and journalists in danger in hotspots worldwide, a film version of Mariane Pearl’s book about the search for her husband could not be more timely.
Due for release in June in the U.S. and the rest of the world in September, the film delivers an even-handed approach to incendiary topics that should generate substantial interest.
Jolie’s voice-over sets the scene as the movie begins in Karachi, a vast, sprawling city where Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) goes missing. He was on assignment to meet a man who could tell him more about Richard Reid, the captured shoe bomber. The events of September 11 were not long past and Reid’s situation was made difficult by the Wall Street Journal’s decision to go public with the fact that it had turned over a suspicious computer to the CIA.
The film traces Pearl’s movements on the night he was kidnapped, when he received several warnings to meet his contact only in public. His trail died when a taxi dropped him off at a restaurant.
When he fails to return to the place where he and his wife — who is pregnant with their first child — are staying, she calls the authorities. Senior people from the newspaper, including John Bussey (Denis O’Hare) and Steve Levine (Gary Wilmes), drop everything to help in the hunt, headquartered at the home of the Pearls’ friend writer Asra (Archie Panjabi). U.S. diplomatic security specialist Randall Bennett (Will Patton) and representatives of assorted American agencies join the team that’s led by the head of the Pakistani counterterrorism unit, who is known as Captain (Irrfan Khan).
The news breaks internationally, and various parties claim that Pearl is with the CIA or Mossad, which complicates things. One Pakistani government member dismisses it as a crime by India. Winterbottom shows the painstaking steps taken to link one mobile phone caller to the next and efforts to track down a single Internet provider that is used to send e-mails about the kidnapping. Marcel Zyskind’s cinematography captures the frantic bustle of the overpopulated city as agents swarm into tenements to arrest suspects.
The film alarmingly implies that torture works when one suspect reveals names under duress. Watching the no-holds-barred approach of the Pakistani authorities on a raid, the American Bennett declares, “I love this town!”
For the most part, however, the film reflects the dispassionate view espoused by Mariane Pearl, who sees that it is misery that breeds terrorism. Jolie plays her with respect and a firm grasp on a difficult accent influenced by France and Cuba. She has a powerful scene in which she lets out a shriek of grief that will be recognized wherever people suffer from terror and loss.
Cast: Angelina Jolie; Dan Futterman; Archie Panjabi; Irrfan Khan; Will Patton; Denis O’Hare; Director: Michael Winterbottom; Screenwriter: John Orloff; Cinematographer: Marcel Zyskind; Production designer: Mark Digby; Music: Harry Escot, Molly Nyman; Costume designer: Charlotte Walter; Editor: Peter Christelis; Producers: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Andrew Eaton.