The tragic tale of kidnapped American journalist Daniel Pearl is likely familiar to anyone who followed news headlines in early 2002. Abducted by Pakistani militant fundamentalists while investigating possible links between Al-Qaeda and Pakistani Intelligence, Pearl was held for nine days while his captors relayed a series of demands to the United States. Although the US Department of Justice and the Diplomatic Security Service worked tirelessly to ascertain his location in an attempt to rescue him, on February 1, 2002, Pearl was killed.
Based on the memoirs of Pearl's wife, Marianne, 'A Mighty Heart' recounts her experience during those nine days in early 2002. When Daniel (Dan Futterman) goes missing during a trip to Pakistan, Marianne (Angelina Jolie) is swept up in a maelstrom investigation. Her residence becomes ground zero for every official trying to bring an end to this international crisis. Their living room is covered in notes, photographs, and diagrams -- constant reminders of her husband's peril and the ruthless men holding him. Struggling with the hope of rescue amidst the mounting probability of failure, Marianne remains resilient in the face of a short window of opportunity.
Although the structure of the film ultimately boils down to a familiar procedural, director Michael Winterbottom ('Welcome to Sarajevo,' 'Code 46,' 'Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story') infuses it with a startling level of realism. I felt chills when things went wrong and genuine frustration when information was just out of reach. Winterbottom's actors fade away and leave actual human beings in their place -- even Jolie is stripped of her larger-than-life star status to deliver a down-to-earth main character. The film's real-life origins may prove disturbing for some, but I was mesmerized by the immense tragedy of it all. By the time the story reaches its conclusion, I felt personally invested in (and devastated by) everything happening on the screen.
Be warned: a consequence of Winterbottom's naturalism is that the film is nearly crushed by an avalanche of information. The investigators' white boards are packed, and the conversations are thick with minute details. It makes the entirety of the story somewhat difficult follow during a first viewing, but that's the point. Winterbottom forces his audience to feel as confused and overwhelmed as his protagonist. In a sense, this potential handicap actually enhances the reality of the experience.
That's not to say that Winterbottom's film is without flaws. My chief gripe is that too much attention is given to the investigators, often shoving the Pearls themselves into the background of their own story. While an argument can be made for the shift, I wanted to remain focused on Marianne and Daniel instead of memorizing the details of the investigation's last thrust.
All in all, 'A Mighty Heart' is a fascinating drama that was largely overlooked when it was released in theaters. It features amazing performances, a taut storyline, and a realistic examination of people in crisis. Hopefully it will find a wider audience on home video.
Paramount provides a 1080p/VC-1 encode for 'A Mighty Heart' (2.35:1). It appears identical to the previous HD DVD release. Shot on HD digital cameras, the film did not work all that well for me visually, though this is certainly the best presentation of the material you're likely to see.
The film has nice blacks, but contrast is intentionally skewed hot. Much actual newsreel footage is intercut throughout, so at least the stylized look of the fictional material maintains some consistency. Detail is merely average, and strong depth is only sporadically impressive. Weakest is shadow detail, which is lacking. The film's color palette is a little subdued, but otherwise clean, and fleshtones are accurate. Though the source displays some noise, otherwise this is a clean encode. Don't expect a new demo disc out of 'A Mighty Heart.'
'A Mighty Heart' on Blu-ray enjoys an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit), identical to the previous HD DVD. I was pleasantly surprised with this soundtrack, which has more impact than I expected.
Though essentially a dialogue-driven drama, 'A Mighty Heart' does have some bursts of action. Surrounds come alive here, and transparency of pans and the overall force of the rear soundfield exceeded my expectations. Subtle ambiance is also nice, with even some of the quieter dialogue scenes enjoying a fine attention to detail. Dialogue still remains front and center, however, and it's well placed in the front soundstage and I had no volume issues. Dynamic range is polished and spacious, with low bass that perfectly supports the material.
'A Mighty Heart' arrives on Blu-ray with the same extras as the HD DVD and DVD versions. It's hardly an extensive package, which is surprising given the real-life events the film portrays. Disappointing.
Based on actual events, 'A Mighty Heart' is a fascinating examination of love and loss. As with the previous HD DVD, however, this Blu-ray suffers from weak video and a paucity of supplements. I liked the audio, however, but that's not really enough to issue a blanket recommendation. Give 'A Mighty Heart' a rent.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.