A Mighty Heart

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Paramount Vantage, 2007

100 minutes, rated R

“A Mighty Heart” is a story about people just trying to get from point A to point B against the backdrop of terrorist incidents and the Bush administration’s response to them.

The film balances on the tipping point of journalist Mariane Pearl (Angelina Jolie), spouse of veteran Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), as she confronts a deep personal crisis.

Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. At the time of the incident, Mariane, a professional in her own right, was pregnant with their son Adam.

Sounds like sentimental propaganda for the “war on terrorism”? See the film and we will argue.

Mariane is of Cuban-French ancestry and Daniel is Jewish American. Both are successful. Both are full of life. Both are sensitive to their relationship, but not absorbed in themselves.

In the days following 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, as thousands of journalists descended on the region and then left, the Pearls stayed behind. Southwest Asia is complicated — far more than a sound bite — and the Pearls remained to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

The film teases the audience with the complexity of the setting, from the superficial “Gee, I didn’t know Karachi looked like that” to “Whoa, I didn’t know India-Pakistan politics even played a role … this is deep.”

The main players — the military-intelligence police — move into the Pearl home and create a command center to track down the kidnappers. But in frame after frame the camera focuses on the son of the housekeeper, who is never introduced. The child plays and helps his mother at her work, and serves as a counterbalance to the unfolding horror.

This story is not spin. Is the Karachi police captain really just working all angles to find Daniel Pearl, or is he just following orders on an internationally charged case, a case that gets the attention of then Secretary of State Colin Powell? What is the role of the CIA? There’s no smoking gun here, but no medals awarded either.

At the end of the film, a riveted audience left the theater with more questions than answers and more compassion than hard-and-fast conclusions.

“A Mighty Heart” is not a summer folly or a relaxing escape. It is glimpse into reality as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and all the rhetoric and bombast about the “war on terrorism” — drags on, and on and on.