Making the Grades
Probably the most difficult movies to criticize are those representing real events with tragic outcomes. Such is the case in A Mighty Heart, which chronicles the final days of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was executed by terrorists in 2002.
Determined to investigate a possible link between shoe bomber Richard Reid and Islamic extremists, Daniel (played by Dan Futterman) and his wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie) travel to Pakistan. On the final night of the couple's stay in the country, the journalist schedules a meeting with the difficult-to-see Sheikh Gilani. The interview is initially arranged at a restaurant, but Daniel is unwittingly led to a house on the outskirts of the city where he is captured, bound and detained.
Telling the story through the eyes of his pregnant wife, the movie begins late that evening when he fails to return, and stretches into the following dreadful days and weeks of speculation and fear over whether or not his captors will spare his life. With her home turned into a command center full of Pakistani police, FBI agents, other government officials and supportive friends, Mariane keeps a stoic face full of optimism. Unfortunately, history has already told us she will not see her husband alive again.
Thankfully, director Michael Winterbottom has chosen to avoid exploitation of the situation and has not included the real-life, graphic footage of Daniel's death. So while the movie deals with a very violent act, there is little violence on the screen. (Even so, the film is still not appropriate for children or young teens.) The production does contain portrayals of men being interrogated while bound, hung by their wrists, and presumably naked (our view is from the waist up), as well as a scene where guns are fired during the capture of a suspect. Likely the greatest concern (and reason for the US R-rating) is multiple uses of a sexual expletive.
The turning of this well publicized story into a dramatic movie has attracted a number of criticisms, mostly by those who claim it is just another way to make a buck off of another post-9/11 tale of misery. However, it could as easily be argued that the project is intended to give Mariane (who now lives with her son in Paris) an opportunity to reveal the events leading to her husband's death. Also a seasoned journalist, she worked closely with the movie's creative team to try and maintain accuracy.
Shot in a documentary style, with natural performances (especially Jolie's) and with mesmerizing detail, it is often hard to remember you are viewing a drama. And that may be the film's biggest flaw. We are pummeled with so many facts and situations we don't have room to be emotionally gripped by her grief. Still, the love Mariane has for her husband is always evident, and gives this film a "heart" that is undeniable.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about A Mighty Heart.
This film is a drama closely based on a true story. Movies like this are often referred to as “docudramas.” What techniques does the filmmaker use to give you the impression you are watching a documentary of real events as they unfold? What ethical considerations should be taken into account when creating this kind of movie? How could casting major Hollywood stars detract or alter a viewer’s perception of the subject matter?