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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

A Mighty Heart

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Jacqueline Monahan

A Mighty Heart

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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An expectant, journalist couple flies to Karachi, Pakistan the day after 9/11. As are so many international reporters they are brave, adventurous, willing to do anything for a story. The price they will pay is heartbreakingly high.

Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) and his French-Cuban wife, Mariane (Angelina Jolie) are barely situated in the home of journalist friend Asra (Archie Panjabi) before he’s off to meet a contact that will give him an exclusive interview with the elusive Sheikh Gilani. Pearl is investigating the connection between notorious shoe-bomber Richard Reid and Islamic terrorist groups in Pakistan. Mariane’s last glimpse of him is from the back of a taxi taking him to a meeting at a restaurant.

Pearl’s been warned of course, about the extreme danger of his activities. U.S. consulate representative Randall Bennett (Will Patton) and the Captain (Irrfan Khan) of Pakistan’s counter terrorism unit have advised him to meet in public places. As everyone will find out, a well-planned kidnapping can take place anywhere, and does. Pearl is never seen alive again.

The rest of the film deals with the frenzied investigational efforts of U.S. and Pakistani officials to find Pearl through tracing his last contacts, even the taxi driver. A large dry erase board set up in Asra’s home, a type of search headquarters, lets the viewer in on just how far-reaching, complex and confusing all of the suspects and contacts have become. Cell phone records and e-mails are painstakingly tracked and recorded.

Hand-held shots lend an air of both documentary realism and desperate urgency to the proceedings. Sounds are loud, and jarring as if mirroring Mariane’s momentarily stifled shriek of anguish. It’s coming, but for the majority of the film, she is composed and a source of strength and hope to those around her. The Captain manages to retain his humanity while legally torturing information out of a suspect.

As five weeks pass and conflicting stories circulate, the film does not lessen its tense, harrowing pace. The viewer is whisked around one development after another in barely controlled hysteria. When Daniel’s fate is finally revealed (the viewer is not shown the actual video, only the reaction of those viewing it, reducing grown men to tears of anguish and horror), Mariane retreats to her room for a painful primal scream of astonishing length, punctuated by the single word, no, over and over again. This scene is difficult to watch but incredibly easy to understand.

This is Mariane’s story, based on her book of the same title, and it is told from her point of view. Many actual locations were used, such as the Hotel Akbar and the city of Islamabad. Real Pakistani police were used as well and given the opportunity to ad lib for realism.

Director Michael Winterbottom (The Road to Guantanamo) shot the film in sequence and welcomed improvisation from those who had lived through the events. He’s crafted a heartbreaking testament to love and dignity, both tough and tender, which resonates with the viewer.

Angelina Jolie transcends her international fame and mythology to disappear into the role of Mariane Pearl, the strong emotional pillar who loses one love of her life while carrying the other. She is devoid of bitterness and leaves those thirsting for vengeance to feel shameful at their probing interview questions. Jolie is devoted to her role and brings Mariane’s anguish to us in full measure. Losing her own mother to cancer during the shoot, Jolie was able to use her grief to flesh out Mariane’s loss from the inside out.

Dan Futterman brings a journalistic understanding to his role as Daniel Pearl. Futterman, the screenwriter of Capote and an actor in his own right (Enough, Urbania) is understated, decent and full of integrity as the man who foolishly trusted his contacts. Scenes with Jolie in private husband and wife moments are the most heartbreaking and the ones I was most interested in. I wanted the film to stay inside the Pearl microcosm where love burned more intensely than the outside hatred. Pearl was killed because he was Jewish and a journalist, sweeping generalizations that ignore the humanity of the man.

Irrfan Khan is memorable as the Captain, able to elicit valuable information from one of the terrorists while regretting the methods he’s forced to use. His nuanced performance straddles the line between ruthless civil servant and weary fellow human who has seen too much violence and insanity in his lifetime.

A Mighty Heart is a loving tribute to a man whose time on earth may have been short, but whose legacy lives on in the words of his wife and the life of his son Adam, now five. They carry on, endure and prevail. In keeping Daniel Pearl’s memory alive, they provide a powerful indictment of and ultimate victory over terrorism’s dark and futile domain.