Catching up on some noteworthy documentaries, I was eager to check in with HBO's "The Journalist and the Jihadi" about the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The horrific details, and subsequent broadcasting (which I refused to watch), of Pearl's beheading are still emblazoned in my memory years after the fact. Taking a dignified and restrained approach to the tragedy, the documentary sets up an interesting narrative device--paralleling Pearl's life with that of Omar Sheikh, the Jihadi responsible for his abduction.
Pearl, a successful and intelligent family man, quickly achieved success and respect within the political arena. Sheikh, educated in England and from a privileged background, distanced himself from his upbringing to take up a very different political crusade. But due to the nature of the resources available, Pearl's life is more fully examined within the film. Interviews with family, friends and coworkers provide a detailed look at a man who sought to make a difference. Sheikh, meanwhile, is more superficially profiled through archival footage and historical documents as he progressed through the ranks of terrorist organizations.
When the two get together in Pakistan, the film becomes a harrowing account of Sheikh's betrayal and Pearl's abduction. The procedures that led to the uncovering of Sheikh's identity and Pearl's fate are faithfully rendered--absolutely riveting and heartbreaking. Ultimately, though, I didn't learn much that I didn't already know--but this is still a powerful and relevant examination of the event. What emerges, and what lingers, from the film is the portrait of Daniel Pearl. This film honors his memory, and his pursuit of truth amounts to an act of heroism. Mariane Pearl, Daniel's wife, wrote "A Mighty Heart" based on her husband's kidnapping and is featured prominently in the documentary. "Heart" is being adapted into a feature film with Angelina Jolie, and one can hope it will be as fitting a tribute to Daniel as "The Journalist and the Jihadi." KGHarris, 01/07.