Al-Qaeda terrorists did not follow the 9/11 attacks with another massacre on American soil. They followed it, in early 2002, with the kidnapping and murder of an American Jew, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in Karachi, Pakistan.
A Mighty Heart, a Michael Winterbottom film, chronicles the efforts of Pearl’s wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie), et al. to retrieve “Danny”; the picture is based on her book. Played by Dan Futterman, Pearl goes off to meet a putative source for an article he is writing on the shoe-bomber Richard Reid (remember him?), only to be victimized by jihadists. Mariane, pregnant and deeply worried, soon discovers he has been kidnapped, and investigations and Karachi arrests proceed apace. Frequently there are evasions, ignorance, baitings—and finally a dropped-off videotape. As everyone knows, Danny is never retrieved. Mariane naturally refuses to watch the tape which shows him being beheaded; preceding this, she screams with grief.
This fast-moving film is, I think, docudrama at its best. It’s less political, really, than United 93, which is not to say it isn’t political at all. It vaguely points a finger at the Wall Street Journal for sharing security-related info with the CIA and thus further jeopardizing the captured Pearl. This may be unfair; I don’t know. But also made clear, through the statement of a detained jihadist, is that the kidnappers seized Pearl simply because he was an American. Actually, of course, he was seized because he was an American Jew. That’s something the terrorists couldn’t abide. Certainly Winterbottom does not ignore anti-Jewish feeling among fanatical Muslims. I admire his presenting the scene where an interviewed cleric tells Danny that the absence of thousands of Jewish employees at the World Trade Center on 9/11 proves that the people of this particular ethnic group were culpable for the atrocity.
Time to be frank. If A Mighty Heart has a message—I’m going to say it does—it is this: reality, though often pleasant, is a nightmare. Believe me, where al-Qaeda is concerned, it is a nightmare. Mariane relates that after the terrorists decapitated Pearl, they cut his body into several pieces before disposing of it. All Mrs. Pearl can do now is go on living and raising her child. End of story.
A well-told story, thanks to Winterbottom.