The next few weeks will see media interest in her for portraying the life of Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman). A Mighty Heart is based on Mariane’s best-selling memoir of the same name.
On Jan. 23, 2002, Mariane Pearl’s world changed forever. Daniel, the South Asia Bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, was researching a story on shoe bomber Richard Reid.
The story drew them to Karachi where a go-between had promised access to an elusive source. As Danny left for the meeting, he told Mariane he might be late for dinner. He never returned.
The night Daniel disappeared, Mariane kept vigil with Asra Nomani, an old friend and colleague of Daniel’s at the Wall Street Journal living in Karachi. Both women were seasoned international journalists with formidable investigative skills, but they were also foreign women in a country that had become increasingly volatile since 9/11. By dawn, they knew they were facing a crisis that required strong allies fully briefed on Pakistan’s proliferating terrorist cells, its byzantine bureaucracy and its notorious Inter-Services-Intelligence agency.
Dozens of local investigators swarmed the house that morning, including a man called Captain, the then head of Pakistan’s brand new counter-terrorism unit. With Asra’s house as headquarters, Captain’s men, along with an American diplomatic security agent, two Journal colleagues and the FBI, dedicated themselves to the search.
After five harrowing weeks, amidst the escalating media frenzy, they found the kidnappers. Among them was the known militant Omar Saeed Sheikh, a.k.a. “Bashir,” the go-between who had offered Daniel information relating to the shoe bomber story that he was in Pakistan researching. Then came the devastating news that Daniel had been brutally murdered weeks earlier.
In the face of death, Daniel’s spirit of defiance and his unflinching belief in the power of journalism led Mariane to write about his disappearance, the intense effort to find him and his eventual murderers in her memoir. Six months pregnant when the ordeal began, she was carrying a son that Daniel hoped to name Adam. She wrote the book to introduce Adam to the father he would never meet.
A Mighty Heart began to take shape in 2003 when Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment acquired the rights to Mariane’s memoir. From that point on, Plan B included Pearl in many decisions in the pre-production of the film.
Part of that process meant Pearl and Jolie would meet. Jolie experienced trepidation about meeting with Pearl and taking on the role.
“Mariane has suffered the ugliest side of all that is going on in the world today and came out of it believing we cannot just be angry and blinded by hate, but must continue to have a dialogue,” says Jolie in the film’s production notes. “If I don’t represent her right, and people don’t see what a beautiful, strong, open-minded, loving woman she is, then I’ve done a disservice and hurt a really great woman.”
Pearl, however, wasn’t worried.
“I am delighted that Angelina Jolie is playing my role in the adaptation of my book,” she relays in the production notes. “I deeply admire her work and what she is committed to. I am also happy that Michael Winterbottom, a versatile and talented director who genuinely loves truth, is working on this project.”
The producers wanted A Mighty Heart to have a documentary feel instead of the usual Hollywood gloss. They turned to Winterbottom who employed a cinéma vérité style with Welcome to Sarajevo and The Road to Guantanamo, two movies that were favorites of the producers and helped cinch the deal.
Many smaller roles and extras were portrayed by non-actors, and filming was done in sequence to help everyone stay in the proper mindset. “It felt like we were really in these moments together, and shooting the scenes in order made it much more real for us,” reveals Jolie in the production notes.
To keep pace with the documentary style of shooting, there were no rehearsals. The lack of rehearsal time meant Jolie, on her first day of shooting, was thrown onto the set to tackle one of her most emotional scenes.
“I was in my room getting ready and they said, ‘OK, come down the stairs,’” Jolie says in the production notes. “I walked into the wedding [scene], and we said our vows. I had looked at Daniel’s and Mariane’s wedding footage just before, and it made me terribly sad. It was such a happy moment for her, so beautiful. They loved each other so much, those two, and you can see it in the wedding. It was hard not to cry.”
The movie was filmed at as many of the actual locations as possible in Pakistan, India and France to ensure authenticity. Filming in some areas, though, proved very challenging.
Jolie, for one, understood and accepted the potential for risk, and for reward.
“We talked about the risks before we started filming, the security concerns and what it would mean politically if we got it wrong. We could anger more people and make it worse,” she admits in the production notes. “But if by some small chance we get it right, maybe we can do a little something towards bringing people back together, or at least looking at each other in another light.”
Amid this possible record-breaking summer, if not year, at the box office, there are some movies out there featuring real-life stories about real-life people trying to change the world.
A Mighty Heart releases in select theaters June 22.