" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie finally proves her Oscar win wasn’t a fluke. This is her best performance — and best movie — since Girl, Interrupted.

High Value Hostage

Mariane presented herself as the epitome of grace under pressure
Mariane presented herself as the epitome of grace under pressure

Back in early 2002 Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl traveled to Karachi, Pakistan, with his pregnant wife, Mariane.

Daniel was in pursuit of one more interview for a story about the shoe bomber, Richard Reid. Warned on more than one occasion to stay in public places, Daniel nonetheless found himself rerouted from a restaurant to a remote location. Already disoriented by the unfamiliar, chaotic surroundings of urban Karachi, the change in plans caught Daniel off guard.

Daniel failed to return to his wife that evening. As time passed, the situation turned desperate and Mariane sought help from fellow journalists and diplomats to find her husband.

An incredible search began deep among terrorists and their accomplices. Unfortunately, after tracking down his captors and attempting to bring the hostage situation to a peaceful conclusion, Daniel’s body was found one month later. In 10 pieces.

Shockwaves

A Mighty Heart calls to mind United 93, the Paul Greengrass’ movie about the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, and Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott’s telling of American soldiers trapped on the streets of Mogadishu. All three share the themes of terrorism and the shockwaves those despicable acts cause, not only for the victims and their loved ones, but for the innumerable innocents affected by the ripple effects.

That said, A Mighty Heart proves to be more engrossing and interesting to watch than United 93. For one thing, the use of handheld camera work is limited — and more effective — under Michael Winterbottom’s direction.

On the other hand, A Mighty Heart’s slow-simmer storytelling doesn’t quite create the same harrowing tension of Black Hawk Down.

Perhaps part of that underlying lack of tension is because the story is told strictly through the eyes of Daniel’s wife (the movie is based on her book of the same title). While Daniel’s ultimate fate is revealed by Mariane at the film’s end as she recaps a small portion of what Daniel endured, the movie could have gained more power by presenting Daniel’s attempts to escape and the harsh treatments with which his actions were greeted.

Another flaw in the presentation is that the movie immediately throws Daniel into his precarious situation without spending enough time introducing him to the audience. While more background about Danny and his personality is revealed at the film’s end; those scenes would perhaps have been more helpful if placed earlier in the movie to give viewers a greater sense of the life that’s on the line. Daniel Pearl was a well-traveled, culturally-minded and culturally-sensitive writer, but casual observers might not fully understand how the carefully-choreographed abduction robbed the world of a very bright man.

I Am Not Terrorized

Those issues aside, Angelina Jolie’s performance as Mariane Pearl is a tremendous accomplishment; the power of that role alone makes A Mighty Heart an easy recommendation. Mariane presented herself as the epitome of grace under pressure, a woman who maintained her composure in the face of life-altering adversity and a woman who chose to take a diplomatic and global perspective of her situation.

Faced with terrorists who chose to blame The Mossad for the 9/11 attacks (after all, their reasoning goes, 4,000 Jews did not go to work at the World Trade Center that day), Mariane had to keep an even keel — her husband, after all, was Jewish.

When Daniel’s body was discovered, the news naturally hit Mariane hard. With a baby boy due in only three months, her entire world was turned upside down. Jolie captures her tumult with unreserved anguish; her screams, loud and painful, send shivers down the spine.

With no choice but to move on, Mariane’s response was one of immediate bridge-building. After all, in the same month her husband was killed, 10 Pakistanis were also murdered by terrorists.

“I am not terrorized.” Those were the simple words the thin, eloquent Parisian told the global media, refusing to cave in to those who try to enlist the miserable into a new kind of world war. In the process, Mariane Pearl showed to the world a strength and a resolve that is well worth remembering and emulating.