Review: A Private War

You simply can’t paint all journalists and all of journalism with the same broad brush. A Private War reminds us of that. The film follows the last ten years in the risk-fueled life of the Sunday Times of London foreign affairs correspondent Marie Colvin. The American-born journalist dedicated most of her adult life to exposing the human atrocities of war across the globe, up to the very moment of her untimely death in the besieged city of Homs, Syria on February 12, 2012. She was 56. A Private War pays homage to Colvin’s bravery, tenacity and bravado, while also exposing the physical and psychological trauma that resulted from the choices she made. Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Beirut, Hostiles) plays Colvin with admirable precision, nailing her unique voice and mannerisms; and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades, Anthropoid) delivers a strong supporting performance as Colvin’s frequent partner in the conflict zones, British-soldier-turned-photojournalist Paul Conroy.

At its core, A Private War is more character study than war drama. The screenplay draws heavily from a posthumous portrait outlined in the lengthy 2012 Vanity Fair article, “Marie Colvin’s Private War.” The article – and the film – strives to explain what could possibly drive someone to risk their life for a story. Over and over again. For Colvin – and others who don the flak jacket in defense of a free press – it’s a compelling desire to bear witness, and give voice to the voiceless, innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. I couldn’t do it, but I admire those who try, even if they do lean on booze to get by.

The film shows Colvin as a complex character, fierce, funny and flawed. She’s haunted by what she sees but unable to stay away, even after a grenade attack in Sri Lanka takes half her sight (prompting her trademark fashion accessory – a black eyepatch). She kept going back – to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and ultimately Syria, where President Assad is still bombing his own people.

A Private War marks the narrative feature debut of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land, City of Ghosts) and it has a definite docu-drama vibe. That’s a double-edged sword: the story keeps you engaged, but you know it won’t end well.

Admittedly, I watched this film with a bias toward gutsy journalists, and a visceral disdain for anyone who dares undermine their efforts by labeling them enemy arbiters of #FakeNews. So while A Private War may not be a great movie, it is a very good one – with a relevant, powerful message that goes beyond Colvin’s story and sacrifice.

The Vanity Fair article quotes Colvin telling a friend, “How do I keep my craft alive in a world that doesn’t value it?” How indeed.

[note: Arty Chick got an early look at A Private War at the Middleburg Film Festival in October. Here’s what she had to say about it: In this excellent biopic, Rosamund Pike turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as prize-winning conflict journalist Marie Colvin, who went into some of the most dangerous situations on earth because she believed that the victims of war needed to be seen and their stories heard. The film begins as she’s covering the Sri Lankan Civil War, where she would lose an eye while crossing between sides. When she returns to work, she meets photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan, 50 Shades) who remains by her side until she is killed covering the siege of Homs in Syria. The film takes her from her home base in London to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, where’s she is unafraid to get into the fray for the story of civilians being killed for political ends. She even interviews Gaddafi shortly before his demise. It’s a sad and aggravating film for its truth about war and the innocents that are pawns. And it is very well done! -JB]

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