Review: A PRIVATE WAR

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

From 1985 until 2002, American journalist Marie Colvin risked her life on a regular basis, working as a foreign affairs and war correspondent for British newspaper, The Sunday Times.  During her tenure at the paper, Colvin would interview Muammar Gaddafi and cover multiple conflicts in the Middle East.  Even losing an eye in Sri Lanka after an RPG attack would not deter Colvin from continuing her work.  War coverage would eventually take its toll on Colvin personally and psychologically, and would cost her her life. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman makes his narrative feature debut with a harrowing and powerful film which tells Colvin’s story.  Rosamund Pike stars as Marie Colvin.  Heineman’s film jumps smack dab into the middle of Colvin’s work as she dodges bullets, ducks grenades and hits the dirt, as the world around her explodes and erupts in violence, turmoil and carnage.  Colvin’s main goal through her writing is to reveal the tragic casualties of war–the women, children, and other civilians destroyed by bombing and fighting taking place in the Middle East.  Colvin would not only lose her left eye, but she would pretty much sacrifice any semblance of a normal life as she travels from dangerous assignment to the next dangerous assignment.  In the process of this difficult and traumatic way of life, Colvin would also risk her mental health as she immerses herself in a world of atrocities and horrors that would floor even the strongest of constitutions.

Based on the Vanity Fair article, Marie Colvin’s Private War by Marie Brenner, the feature film adaptation of Marie Colvin’s story is raw, violent, powerful and poignant.  With a screenplay by Arash Amel, Matthew Heineman uses his talents for documentary film-making to create a feature film that appears realistic and not at all staged.  Heineman’s crew which includes cinematographer extraordinaire Robert Richardson and editor Nick Fenton, not to mention the amazing effects team, help make Heinenman’s vision look like reality.

As impressive looking as they are, the violent war sequences never overshadow the main subject of this film.  The borderline courage/insanity of war journalist Marie Colvin is on perfect display.  Amidst the bombings, shootings, bodies and blood is a driven character who did whatever she had to do for her stories.  The movie’s beginning acts come across as chaotic and scattershot, in that filmmakers try to rush a little through some of Colvin’s first assignments.  In doing so, her work in these moments loses a little impact.  Still, when Colvin loses her left eye, this moment serves as a wake up call to Colvin’s immortality and the true dangers of her work.

In selecting Rosamund Pike to portray Marie Colvin, the filmmakers have chosen superbly.   Not only does Pike bring much vigor, tenacity, and strength to her character, she also shows the more personal, wounded and vulnerable side that only her closest friends knew.  Colvin struggled with PTSD and alcoholism during her career, but it was her addiction to her work that kept her going.  Pike is absolutely tremendous in this role and certainly deserves some nominations during the awards season.

The movie also has a great supporting cast.  Jamie Dornan, who is best known for his performances as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades movies, gets to finally show some talent and competence as an actor in this film.  Here he stars as Paul Conroy, a British freelance photographer who often works closely with Colvin.  The film also stars Stanley Tucci as Colvin’s love interest Tony Shaw, but unfortunately, the actor doesn’t have that much screen time to make a huge impact.  Tom Hollander, however, shines brightly as Sean Ryan, Colvin’s newspaper editor.  His character comes across as a somewhat opportunistic boss, but one who  struggles with balancing his commitment to selling newspapers and his desire for the safety of his number one writer.

Marie Colvin’s uncompromising commitment to her journalism would eventually get her killed.  Such is the risk involved in facing the atrocities of war head-on for the sake of revealing its ugliness to the world. Director Matthew Heineman and his team have done a wonderful job of sharing her affecting and emotionally charged story and do so with much love and respect.  Though I don’t think this movie will be up for best picture honors, it still deserves high praise.  Rosamund Pike, however, is the one shining star of this movie who deserves the most love.

 

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