A Mighty Heart (2007)

(In theaters, June 2007) The worst thing about this film is the knowledge that things won’t end well. The tragic story of Daniel Pearl is well-known to the public most likely to see this film, and so it unfolds like a tragedy in the making: despite the efforts toward a happy ending, we just know that it’s not going to happen, and this sadness permeates any reading of the film from beginning to end. This lends instant respectability to the film, but it also makes it easy to dismiss as Oscar-driven pap. For instance, Angelina Jolie does well with a role that merely requires her to look stunning and speak with a French accent. But even hot Oscar-baiting grandstanding can’t completely drive away the true continuing appeal of the film, which eventually plays like a rough and merciless police procedural in the darkness of the Islamic third-world. The most fascinating character of the piece becomes a Pakistani counter-terrorism captain trying to solve the mystery even as his efforts are stymied by the very environment he lives in. The sights and feel of Karachi are oppressive in their claustrophobia: here the setting makes the action seem that much more fantastic, suggesting intriguing possibilities for future fictional thrills. Even the casual use of high technology seems all that more exotic and uncomfortable in an environment where data cables are loosely tied to outdoor pipes and where even laptops look like intrusions from a Science-Fictional world. Alas, those thrills are quickly tempered by the known futility of the efforts, and the anticipated roar of the heroine’s grief. Remarkably apolitical yet immediately recognizable as a film shaped by today’s world, A Mighty Heart may not be guilt-free fun, but it’s far more fascinating than you would expect from the documented premise.

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