At a crucial time when journalists find themselves critically berated and unjustly attacked for no other reason than political ignorance. The timing is perfect for A Private War, a movie about the great war correspondent Marie Colvin. Who dedicated her life to telling the truth about the consequences of the atrocities of war on innocent people everywhere, and the ultimate price she paid to do it.
Because it concentrates on her professional risks and accomplishments at the expense of the personal conflicts. That give the film its title, it’s not a perfect film. But Rosamund Pike is so good in it that she’s certain to be remembered when the 2018 awards season rolls around.
Directed by Matthew Heineman and based on a powerful piece of well-research reportage in Vanity Fair by Marie Brenner, a first-rate journalist herself. A Private War chronicles the final ten years in the life of a brave, impassion and self-sacrificing American working. That as a correspondent for The Sunday Times in London, from the attack that blind her in Sri Lanka to the disastrous efforts to send a dispatch. That from the front lines in Homs, Syria that result in her death in 2012.
Beautiful, patrician British cabbage rose Rosamund Pike plays the tough, rebellious writer from Oyster Bay, Long Island. That to the point of camouflage to present the raw mask of a woman ravage by life on the front lines — Chain smoking, scotch swigging, bluntly outspoken, gravelly voice with a trademark black patch over one eye. After it was blast out of its socket by a hand grenade, torment by nightmares and flashbacks to scenes of violence and death. That haunt her to the last paragraph of her broken laptop—a woman who felt more at home in all the danger zones on the angry planet. It than in any of the fashionable restaurants in Mayfair.
Marie Colvin lived and died in war zones.
One of the most renown combat correspondents of the past 50 years, distinguish by her empathetic prose and her omnipresent eyepatch. This Queens-born, Oyster Bay-bred journalist for the Sunday Times felt at home in hot spots around the world. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Sri Lanka (where she would lose her eye from an explosion while tagging along with the Tamil Tigers). Syria (where she’d lose her life during a 2011 bombing in Homs).
These were the places that Colvin need to be in order to bear witness and report back. “People connect with people,” she, or rather her screen avatar in A Private War, tells a younger colleague. “Find their stories.”
As play by Rosamund Pike, Colvin is steely, stubborn, courageous, chain-smoking, vodka-swilling, an old-school Fourth-Estater and saltier than the Sargasso Sea. She binge-drinks and beds strangers in foreign-locale bars while on assignment, tangles with her editor (Tom Hollander). While also giving him award-winning front page features and toughens up/semi-flirts. That with equally dedicate photographer Paul Conroy (Fifty Shades’ resident sadist Jamie Dornan).
She’s also severely traumatized by having seen so much strife up close and personal. Only a cynic might suggest that such a role would help an actor garner extra recognition, notably the shiny gold kind, for their dedication and craft. Only a fool would fail to acknowledge what time of year this movie is hitting theaters.
What keeps this from being more than just a functional There Goeth the Great Woman biopic is not just Pike
Who doesn’t just imbue Colvin with all of those aforemention qualities but also gives her a spine and a soul. (She’s always been the sort of actor who can make semi-decent roles seem better than they are and great roles in movies. That like The World’s End and Gone Girl feel positively bliss-inducing.) It’s also the fact that director Matthew Heineman comes to this. That with what could be a deeper-than-usual understanding of the rush and regrets of Colvin’s profession.
A documentarian by trade, he risk life and limb making Cartel Land (2015). A frontline report on the War on Drugs happening on both sides of the Mexican border. The 34-year-old filmmaker also profile numerous members of Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtere. A collective of “citizen journalists” smuggling out footage of Syria’s civil war to the West, in City of Ghosts (2017). Heineman himself may not have been on the ground with them. “I would have been kill instantly” he told — but you don’t spend that much time with people enduring such extremities without gleaning a few things.
You can hazard a guess that these aspects play into the urgency he brings to the filmmaking here
That with the camera whip-panning and zooming as Colvin and Conroy find themselves in the shit. Or following directly behind them as they run to shelter during a particularly dodgy firefight in Libya. (The cinematography by the legendary Robert Richardson apes war videography to an alarming, uncomfortable degree.)
Or that Heineman and editor Nick Fenton aren’t able to cut from a dead body straight to a dinner party without grasping the disparity Colvin herself experience. That from watching women in black cry over dug-up corpses to accepting a War Correspondent of the Year accolade while clad in a little black dress.
It’s grace notes like that, along with an almost palpable sense of post-shelling grit layering many of the images. Which keep you engaged with this retelling of a cut-too-short life. And it’s the limitations of the genre that prevent the movie from sometimes feeling like just another familiar story of trial, triumph and tragedy. Not that Colvin’s life was not extraordinary in every way, shape or form. A Private War just occasionally reduces that story to a series of recall incidents and recount exchanges. That from war zone to war zone, one standard biopic beat to the next standard biopic beat. You don’t want to hate the player, but you do feel yourself getting frustrated by the game.
Rating: R (for disturbing violent images, language throughout, and brief sexuality/nudity)
Directed By: Matthew Heineman
Stars: Rosamund Pike, Alexandra Moen, Tom Hollander
Written By: Arash Amel
In Theaters: Nov 16, 2018 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Feb 5, 2019
Runtime: 106 minutes
Studio: Aviron Pictures
CRITIC REVIEWS FOR A PRIVATE WAR
At a time when pressured media budgets are conspiring, with the general preference for escapism over reality, to threaten war reporting’s very existence, A Private War unflinchingly reminds us of its value.
A Private War is at its best when it focuses on tension and danger in the field… These scenes land us in the moment unlike much of the more conventional human drama [director Matthew] Heineman builds elsewhere.
I admired A Private War for its tough, forthright, pro-journalist attitude.
While it occasionally pulls away from Colvin to let the nightmarish inhumanity of war provide power and feeling, it all too often relies on juiced-up expressions of humanist heroism.