Film Review: A Private War
By Belle McIntyre
I am guessing that the private war that the title is referring to is journalist, Marie Colvin’s internal battle between self-preservation and truth telling. Or, it could reasonably be argued that it was between fear of getting old or dying young. What is clear is which side won. It was definitely a one-sided conflict with life on the losing side. This biopic of the American war correspondent played fantastically by Rosamund Pike is familiar territory for Heinemann, whose previous films were documentaries Cartel Land (Mexico) and City of Ghosts (ISIS in Syria). He is expert at capturing and conveying the urgency, horror and danger experienced in conflict zones. This is not a film for the faint of heart.
The film begins and ends in Homs, Syria in 2012 with the death of Colvin and wounding of her photographer, Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan). It then cuts back in time to cover many of the other horrific conflict zones she had reported from, beginning with Sri Lanka during the civil war with the Tamil Tigers. That is the place where she was severely wounded and blinded in one eye, so that she was obliged to wear an eye patch ever after. The eyepatch was something of a badge of honor and was only one aspect of what distinguished her from other journalists. She was as tough or tougher than any of the men working at the time. Driven and fearless, like a moth to a flame, she requested and got the most dangerous assignments, Afghanistan, and Libya, where she interviewed Gaddafi. From 1985 until her death her commitment to witnessing and exposing crimes against humanity and their attendant pain and suffering was her driving force. She was rewarded by many journalistic honors.
Her belief in the importance of what she was doing overrode her chances at having a normal personal life. She was twice married and divorced by the same man. She appears to have regrets and feels conflicted about that as a failure in spite of the fact that her career choice mitigates against any stability. In the dangerous, adrenalin-fueled world in which she operated, and the horrors which she witnessed, it is small wonder that there was a heavy physical and emotional toll, which she sought to keep at bay by increasingly heavy drinking, many cigarettes, and casual affairs. At one point she had to take herself out of the action as a result of PTSD.
Pike’s performance is devastating. She is unrecognizable as the cool, elegant British beauty that she is. I felt that the portrayal was a bit too over the top in the early part of the film, but by the end, the story is so powerful and it’s truths so terrible and important, that all reservations vanished. That her fatal trip to Homs was done against orders because she felt it was that important to report on the awfulness live to CNN is so stunning. I, personally, was shattered when the final credits rolled and I think no one moved for some time when the lights went up.
It is a real tour de force.
Watch the trailer here