A Private War, 2018.
Directed by Matthew Heineman.
Starring Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander, Alexandra Moen, Corey Johnson, Raad Rawi, Greg Wise, Hilton McRae, Jérémie Laheurte, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Amanda Drew, and Fady Elsayed.
One of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time, Marie Colvin is an utterly fearless and rebellious spirit, driven to the frontline of conflicts across the globe to give voice to the voiceless.
Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman is no stranger to political text, but here is crafting his first narrative feature, a biopic based on the inspirational journalistic integrity and undyingly dutiful Marie Colvin, based on the Vanity Fair article Marie Colvin’s Private War by Marie Brenner. With that said, the best elements of A Private War play like a documentary, such as hauntingly distressing moments where bones are excavated with real-life Iraqi citizens reenacting the findings or tragic hospital sequences as a result of various bombings; these bits zoom in close on the facial expressions, forcing viewers to take in every tear and reflect on relatively modern history. Not only is it horrifying, but in many ways, these brief glimpses of reality upstage Rosamund Pike’s fantastic portrayal of Marie Colvin.
Working from a script adapting key events in Marie’s time as a war correspondent, Arash Amel wastes no time presenting some inner conflict as the loss of one of her eyes from a grenade in Sri Lanka serves as a prologue of sorts. Never dissuaded and always prepared to risk her life for the truth (in hopes that such a thing will reach regular citizens and make a difference in their decision-making, something absolutely relevant not only in this age but this very week as I’m currently cranking this review out with midterm voting looming over America), Maria jumps back into the fray this time being befriended by her field partner partner/photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan giving a decent performance, hopefully entering the independent scene phase of his career now that he is not chained to garbage).
Having always looked up to Marie, Paul practically becomes filled with excitement at the opportunity to save some of her recordings from a blasted technological computer bug, and as the two continue to bond over the course of their tethered journeys. Over the years, Marie seems to have a few different love interests (Stanley Tucci is also present putting in more good work), but going further, A Private War is just as much about the PTSD Marie suffers from the aforementioned explosion. That goes for dealing with higher-ups at the office, get-togethers, and the relationships between her friends, most of which all feel underdeveloped but still vital to her character arc. Simply put, it often feels as if A Private War is undecided on what story it wants to tell, but regardless of what’s happening Rosamond Pike is giving maximum effort.
There are segments where it can feel as if she is overacting, but all of the little tics she graces Marie with offset this. Chain-smoking from the very beginning of the film, Marie only continues to do so despite whatever war corresponding throws her way, and as the years goes on Rosamund Pike’s voice becomes more raspy and strained. She’s also fairly unrecognizable as far as the physical transformation goes, aiding the immersion of what’s transpiring on screen, but it is still a few notches below Oscar worthy.
The story works best whenever Marie is out in the field, building to a tragically, searingly unforgettable finale in Homs, Syria. It’s also the wheelhouse director Matthew Heineman is clearly most comfortable in, lending unshakable authenticity to Marie’s interactions with anyone suffering she comes across in her reporting. By getting the scenes right, the film ultimately accomplishes its mission of displaying appreciation for the harrowing work journalists engage in. Honestly, we could use some of that right now; journalists are our friends and Marie Colvin was one of the finest in the industry. It’s rough in the middle, but the timeliness, love letter approach to Marie’s persona, and committed performance from Rosamund Pike elevate A Private War beyond the average biopic.
If Marie’s goal was to give a voice to the voiceless, the film based on her work does the same; whenever those background characters come into the foreground reliving horrific experiences, even if it’s for 30 seconds, their body language says more than any script ever could.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com