A Mighty Heart looks like British director Michael Winterbottom’s try for the Hollywood Big Time. It certainly fulfills the main tenets of the Big Time contender: co-production with a U.S. company (Paramount Vantage), an American superstar in the lead role (Angelina Jolie), and a readymade story of dramatic import (the kidnapping and execution of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Islamic fundamentalists). But with all the muscle behind this film, something more fundamental has been left missing: ironically, a heart. Like United 93, A Mighty Heart is so focused on achieving nearly flawless verisimilitude to real events and processes that it never stops to ask what it has accomplished with such realism. It’s a perfunctory examination of a relatively fresh wound from the War on Terror, and Winterbottom merely provides the official stamp of History to another chapter of the 9/11 book and closes the cover.
So the Daniel Pearl story unfolds, with less political or emotional resonance than can be gathered from a Wikipedia entry containing the same details. Winterbottom attempts to inject some life into the proceedings with never-sit-still editing, tourist glimpses of local color in Pakistan, India, and France, and unannounced flashbacks. Nothing works. It’s then up to Angelina Jolie as courageous wife Mariane Pearl (on whose memoir the film is based) to salvage any meaning amidst the frantic cellphone calls and Pakistani police investigations. But her Oscar-baiting histrionics, unconvincing French accent, and very conspicuous whiteness (the real life Mrs. Pearl is part Afro-Cuban, but whatever) constitute the one needless, alienating component in a too-earnest simulacrum that at this point is just more spit in an ocean of seamless representations.