Blu-ray Review: A Mighty Heart (2007)

Now Available on Blu-ray

Previously Available in Other Formats

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It’s something that we take for granted as it arrives on our stoop in the morning causing us to leave newspaper ink fingerprints as we go about our day; scan the bottom of the channel CNN to view the crawl instead of listening to be endless and repetitive pundits; or read online via The Huffington Post, The New York Times, etc.

But what we don't realize in this age of readily available information is that the news has to come from somewhere and it's derived from the tireless and courageous pursuits of journalists around the globe where -- even in the 2000s -- someone can get into a cab and disappear into a horrific nightmare which leads to their death. No, this is not the stuff of a novel but a hellish page one feature that resulted in the true and heart wrenching story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's kidnapping and eventual beheading which took place in the winter of 2002.

For what Variety called his first studio film, director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People), helmed the emotionally riveting and compelling docudrama A Mighty Heart and in doing so, set about tackling the true account of Pearl’s life and disappearance as captured in nonfiction form by his widow, Mariane Pearl.

Adapted by Band of Brothers screenwriter John Orloff, A Mighty Heart is a devastating and tense work that brings us into the investigation via Winnterbottom’s astute cinematic approach that on the surface seems technically similar to The Constant Gardener but quickly evolves into its own startlingly realistic rhythm.

The film from Paramount Vantage and produced as a project of love by Brad Pitt whose partner Angelina Jolie takes on the role of Mariane is supremely enhanced by a plentiful employment of cuts from editor Peter Christelis that never gives us the opportunity to settle into any given moment as nary a shot lasts more than a few seconds to ratchet up the urgency even further. Likewise, Winterbottom strictly adheres to his style, throwing viewers off balance via fast close-ups and cinematographer Marcel Zyskind’s constantly moving high definition handheld camera.

However, all of this was picked up on during my second viewing of the work as it hits Blu-ray in a transfer that seems entirely fitting to move Winterbottom's film that was shot in high definition to the newsreel, docudrama, hellish home movie style high definition format.

For, like most viewers, the first time I caught A Mighty Heart I was less conscious of the seemingly effortless artistry and instead incredibly overwhelmed by the dynamic yet subtle performance by Angelina Jolie as Mariane who-- very pregnant-- kisses her husband goodbye as he steps into a cab, never to see him again.

Although one of the hurdles of the work’s success which some critics argued was that it may have been completed a bit too soon after Danny's demise since we all precisely we know how it will all turn out as officials, government specialists, colleagues and others wait alongside Mariane using a wide variety of journalistic and detective based techniques to try to follow Daniel’s final story about Richard Reid in Karachi, Pakistan. Simply put, Pearl’s alarming and highly publicized disappearance and shocking end to his young life horrified citizens around the globe and some questioned whether or not this should be captured on celluloid while the wounds were still left unhealed.

However, although we know what coming, it’s all the more upsetting when we are placed by Winterbottom in the house of his soon to be widow. A finely crafted film that features Jolie’s best work since her Academy Award winning turn in Girl, Interrupted-- the Blu-ray’s technical efficiency is very impressive boasting a natural sound balance even when using a simple HDMI cord which nicely matches the heightened picture that seems far crisper given Winterbottom's tendency to use (as he shares in the making-of-featurette) as little light as possible.

Angelina Jolie

The thirty-minute minute behind-the-scenes documentary “A Journey of Passion,” displays not only Winterbottom's masterful craftsmanship that served the intimate location well during its five-week shoot but also the ensemble cast’s fierce commitment to be as authentic as possible in bringing Daniel and Marianne Pearl’s story to life. In fact, if you've are a seen the film before, you may actually want to begin the Blu-ray experience by taking in this featurette first as it makes you appreciate even more the supporting work by actors such as Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi, and Will Patton.

Also containing an optional but highly informative 2007 public service announcement introduction with Christiane Amanpour as she discusses the sad facts that journalists are not only targets for what they write but what they represent which is bringing the news, and the facts from some of the farthest reaches of the world straight to your driveway every morning.

In order to counter the ignorance and hatred that led to the murder of Daniel Pearl as well as (“some 230 other journalists [that] lost their lives at the time of Pearl's kidnapping” as Ebert referenced from Pearl’s memoir) which Amanpour, Mariane Pearl, and Roger Ebert conclude “means… [that journalists had a] proportionately… higher death rate than combat soldiers,” the Daniel Pearl Foundation (http://www.danielpearl.org) was started in an attempt to use journalism, music and the arts to break down barriers and encourage tolerance, acceptance, and understanding-- namely everything that was lacked when journalists lose their lives.

Additionally, the Blu-ray disc also offers a mini-featurette that charts the historical inception and efforts made in the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) which began a little over 25 years ago with the mission to protect journalists as in some countries the First Amendment we so enjoy in this nation does not exist and the freedom of the press is an unfamiliar phrase and what journalists report may in fact lead to not just persecution but death in their respective homelands.

And yes, admittedly I grant you that audience’s tolerance of any post-9/11 films has been virtually nonexistent as several high-quality, thought provoking cinematic explorations have either crashed and burned at the box office or been left to gather dust on video store shelves. Likewise, even as a critic who tries to be open to watching as many types of films as possible, I was hesitant to take in some of the extremely depressing Oscar bait fodder served up into theatres last fall and winter.

However, A Mighty Heart remains timelier than ever as the line between the media and the public is increasingly blurred with Twitter updates filling the bottom of CNN screens and bloggers around the globe starting to report the stories that matter while some of our most lauded institutions such as Roger Ebert’s Chicago Sun-Times declare bankruptcy.

In other words, in this day and age-- whether it's via YouTube or podcasts-- more individuals than ever before are taking advantage of the idea of the “freedom of the press” and so it is necessary for all of us to honor the sacrifices made by the men and women who did this to help bring truth and justice to light by taking time out to learn more about story of Daniel Pearl whose attempt to bring us the news that transfers from the ink pages to our fingers now transfers to our keyboards on a regular basis.

So, given the unparalleled democracy of the world wide web when we all have the chance to become Daniel Pearl, let us remember the way he lived and his reasons for his work rather than the way he died being the type of snippet of information we take for granted on the CNN crawl.