War correspondent Marie Colvin fought not one but numerous personal battles in her violently abbreviated.
Colvin was the two-time winner of the British Foreign Journalist of the Year Award and something of a celebrity among her peers in the time before she was killed in Syria in , and though some of her struggles can be surmised, they are still brutally involving. For openers, Colvin took the injustices of the world personally and made it her unwavering mission as a reporter to expose them as widely as possible.
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More than that, Colvin continually fought with the non-combat zone world, fought to make people who were safe at home pay attention to those who were not. Perhaps inevitably, Colvin also had major battles with herself. For this impressive film pulls few punches in unflinchingly detailing from the inside — graphic nightmares included — the complexity of the effect war had on Colvin and the world surrounding her.
She would do so dutifully, and dynamically, but at a heavy personal cost. When we first meet her in A Private War, Marie Rosamund Pike is relaxing at home in London with her boyfriend, and trying to live a normal life.
That, however, is one task she has no flair for, and as soon as a conflict kicks off somewhere, she dons the flak jacket and heads for Heathrow. Her courage is extraordinary, and when she's embedded with Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka, a blast from a rocket grenade destroys her left eye. She returns to London sporting a jaunty eye patch that only adds to her legend, and while some journalists would be put off by such a life-altering attack, Colvin is soon back out in the field.
Her sincerity in wanting to shine a light on pointless human suffering is absolutely genuine, but like a lot of war correspondents, Marie has also become addicted to the adrenalin rush of combat, or rather finds its absence intolerable. Visibly ill-at-ease at awards ceremonies and social functions, she feels more at home in war zones, in the company of battle-hardened journalists and photographers, one of whom is about to become her final partner in crime.
Liverpool photojournalist Paul Conroy Jamie Dornan first teams up with Marie in Iraq, and in agrees to accompany her on an extremely risky trip to war-torn Syria. That she does, in a series of gripping articles and TV broadcasts, but ignores all calls to leave the city before it's too late. Heineman has said that he did not want A Private War to be a biopic, but rather an account of the rising toll of Colvin's work. That it is, and the film proceeds in a fog of combat, building towards the dusty nightmare of Homs.
That dreadful battle is brilliantly recreated by Heineman and his cinematographer, Robert Richardson, and provides the film's most boldly cinematic moments.
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But in terms of Colvin herself, we're not really given enough to go on as we try to make sense of her life. This is not the fault of Rosamund Pike, who throws herself fearlessly into Colvin's larger-than-life persona, smoking and boozing and swearing up a storm as she battles with her perfidious editor Tom Hollander and a recurring case of PTSD.
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But her suffering seems tinny, perhaps because it has no context: we're given no insight into her early life, or why she might have been so impelled to walk towards the gunfire. As Paul Conroy, Dornan does his best to suppress the soft twangs of his Belfast accent, and Stanley Tucci always a welcome sight seems very amused by nothing in particular when he turns up as an amorous City of London investor type.
But this is Pike's film, and her dedication and grit are to be commended. If only she'd been given a little bit more to work with. What if you could click your fingers and become the proud parents of an entire brood?
Director: Matthew Heineman. Anyone planning a film about a war correspondent would be well advised to avoid the cliches that hang around that profession. They drink too much.
A Private War
They make life hell for their editors, but the copy is so good all excuses are allowed. The problem for Matthew Heineman and Arash Amel , director and writer of this largely effective biopic, is that the late Marie Colvin really did seem to live that life. Colvin, who was assassinated while covering the Siege of Homs in , was a foreign affairs correspondent for the Sunday Times.
Fools were suffered less than gladly. Danger was no object. The snippet of dialogue above really does appear. Assisted by a fine central performance from Rosamund Pike — whose focus is steelier than any contemporary — Heineman has managed to build a character that stands apart from those Graham Greene stereotypes. Pike creates a person who is at least the equal — usually the superior — of the men around her, but who also remains separate, singular, at an angle.
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She moves with an assurance that never gives in to swagger.