America's movie industry is a potent weapon of global reach that has shaped the world's imagination for generations. In that sense, "A Mighty Heart," the movie that pretends to tell the story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded in 2002 by Islamic jihadists in Pakistan, ranks as a travesty.
Pearl's story is a real-life yarn of multiple dimensions that, at its most grandiose, could have been spun as the tale of a great clash, a sort of collision between Nazi-like value systems and basic American ones — in the story of a working journalist on the chaotic streets of Pakistan.
It could have been treated as the story of a man who grew up believing in something — an American raised by liberal Jewish parents to accept everyone's beliefs — only to be killed in a far-away land by nihilists who believed in nothing.
It could also have been a sideways profile of the American press — which, for all its foibles, has introduced the world to the notions of freedom of expression and democracy.
It is also the story of many Muslim countries, an oft-enacted tale of how failed values pry open a Pandora's box filled with violence and terror.
On its simplest levels, it could have been about suspense, intrigue, and treachery in the dark realms of Islam, the alleyways filled with preachers and terrorists, and how they all intersected when a sword was raised over the neck of a bound, kneeling American reporter.
The movie fails on all these counts and more.
I am not one to believe American movies must be propaganda, for that indeed would doom them. As an avid fan of cinema, like billions of other people around the world, I believe they should simply be good and, in the face of such an obvious evil, be there.
My strongest reservation in "A Mighty Heart" is the absurd political correctness that permeates the film; its writers, producers, and directors do not even mention fanatical Islam to avoid offering offense.
The real story of Daniel Pearl offered a sinister, flavorful, meaty set of scenarios — and core values — that ought to be examined by the mightiest, most skilled, and best movie industry on Earth. Instead, they fashioned it into an exercise in sterility.
Because it won't touch on the real context of Pearl's deadly adventure, the film turns into merely an acting vehicle for its star, Angelina Jolie, and her producer-companion, Brad Pitt.
This sort of reality, the clash of civilizations between the West and Islam, cannot be reduced to that. Acting for its own sake is hollowness. Even the entirely fictitious "Casablanca," an all-time classic love story, worked within the context of the threat of Nazi fascism and the need to fight against it.
"A Mighty Heart" is unlikely to be either a commercial success or a winner of prizes, but one should linger over the harm that it could still do.
While the movie is gutted by the absence of Pearl, who is airbrushed away to make room for his spouse and eventual widow, most of all, it suffers from pretending to be just another story in just another place. Its settings are not on the moon.
Pakistan is an exporter of terrorism. The government of that country is another Muslim enterprise pretending to be a Western ally, just like Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and many others. That is why Pearl went there and why he was kidnapped and murdered.
If I were a Muslim who had just watched "A Mighty Heart" in a theater in Dearborn, Mich., Karachi, or Cairo, the only impressions that I would probably be left with is that the man got what he deserved and that Karachi is really one hell of a messy place. Beyond that, I would not have a clue that my Muslim compatriots had anything to do with it.
The movie could have saved itself if, at the start, it had shown the killer, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who is portrayed in the movie as merely a skilled and handsome plotter — boasting, "I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan."
Ms. Jolie could have taken it from there.