Based on wife Mariane Pearl’s memoir of the same name, the story begins with Pearl and his pregnant wife traveling to Karachi to investigating a possible tie between “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and Sheikh Gilani. Despite repeated warnings to exercise caution and meet the Sheikh, who had connections with radical Islamic groups in the past, in a public place, Pearl is kidnapped and later brutally murdered.
The bulk of the film is Mariane Pearl’s account of the five week investigation that led up to her husband’s death. Call it CSI: Karachi, it is a police procedural with tension, excitement, but most of all, heart.
Director Michael Winterbottom’s gritty style and ever-moving camera gives the film a documentary feel and the sense of urgency of a current news story. Even though we know how the sad saga ends there is never a sense of resignation or inevitability to the story. It feels as though it is unraveling in real time, as if a news crew had unprecedented access to Pearl and the investigation. It’s harrowing, unvarnished stuff, but utterly compelling.
At the center of the film is a barely recognizable Angelina Jolie as Mariane. She is literally in disguise as Pearl’s wife—hair curled tight, minimal make-up and a French/Cuban accent—and leaves the well defined Angelina Jolie persona in the dressing room, handing in a forceful performance (maybe her best ever) that is sure to garner awards.
A Mighty Heart is a demanding film. Unsentimental, yet heartfelt, it manages to deliver emotion and realism without a hint of manipulation on the filmmaker’s part.