There is an embedded thriller in A Mighty Heart, replete with obligatory pounding score and cutaways to the teeming chaos of seamy Karachi, as American and Pakistani intelligence agencies try to root out Pearl's abductors after he's suckered into what he thinks is a crucial interview. Closer in method and spirit to Winterbottom's terrific asylum-seeker docudrama, In This World, than it is to his overwrought The Road to Guantánamo, A Mighty Heart is about waiting, about hanging around under the worst of circumstances with only bad news in the offing.
Far from exploiting the grisly minutiae of Pearl's death (we never see the video), the movie makes stringent demands on our patience, as the search fans out through the computer files of Washington and Karachi to the warren of hovels where terrorist cells multiply like mushrooms. Daniel, played as a loving husband and affable colleague by an impressive Dan Futterman, disappears early on, and aside from a few flashbacks to the couple's remembered happiness, the focus is on Mariane.
Pearl's death was an affront to all humanity, and I was holding my breath to see whether Winterbottom would use the occasion to slag off on American foreign policy, as he did in his credulous The Road to Guantánamo by converting Guantánamo inmates from victims into heroes. Here, though, Winterbottom is completely up front about the naked anti-Semitism of Islamic jihad and the fact that Pearl died as much because he was a Jew as because he was an American. If nothing else, this simple, decent docudrama offers a forceful counter to the repugnant argument, heard not only in the East but faintly echoed on the European far left, that whatever happens to Ugly America and its acolyte Israel, they have it coming.
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