Director: Matthew Heineman
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, Stanley Tucci, Faye Marsay, Greg Wise, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Fady Elsayed
Written by: Arash Amel and (based on the Vanity Fair article “Marie Colvin’s Private War”) Marie Brenner
Running Time: 110 mins
Release date: 15th February 2019
Marie Colvin was a prominent and important woman. Working as a foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times, Colvin would venture into the darkest of war zones to report on the events, as well as give her unique insight into the politics of the various conflicts. Such an incredible woman needs a story that will capture the heart and soul of her. Sadly, A Private War makes a good attempt but falls short, even if it does have a barnstorming central performance.
Marie Colvin is sent to Sri Lanka to investigate an unreported war that is occurring in that country. While there, she becomes involved in an incident that leaves her losing her sight in her left eye. Sporting an eye patch, Colvin and freelance photographer Paul Conroy travel to the worst of the war zones, from Afghanistan to Iraq leading to Syria, where she finds that what everyone at home believes is the truth about that conflict is far from true.
Directed by documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman, the man responsible for the superb Cartel Land, this has the feel of a factually based story, as we are thrown quite literally into the heart of these conflicts as Colvin and Conroy were. The cinematography has that documentary feel to it, making it feel so much more real than just going for a straight-forward biopic. These sequences are both shocking and often jarring, with explosions and bullets flying around the heads of those we are following.
Where the film fails to ignite is capturing the views and opinions of Colvin. A wild and often reckless woman who sees the horror of the environment she finds herself and discovering what exactly is happening, particularly in the scenes of Syria, a war that no one understands and yet from Colvin comes an edge that isn’t quite here. The documentary Under The Wire tells the story in much more detail and is an incredibly tough watch.
Colvin was an enormous character, a woman who threw herself into her job, who was often stubborn with her views and opinions, hating the injustice of the world. She was determined to make a difference, and with two Best Foreign Correspondance awards, she became a figurehead for fine and trusted journalism, something of a rarity in this day and age. Highly respected by all in her field, Colvin brought the war to her readers and along with it, the politics.
Heineman has gathered together some terrific actors. Stanley Tucci, in more of a brief cameo that a significant role, still makes an impression and brings some well-needed comic relief. Tom Hollander, always reliable and entirely watching, is on fine form as Colvin’s editor. Jamie Dornan, pushing from memory his time as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades movies, is superb as Paul Conroy, the photographer who spent most of his career at the side of this firecracker of a woman, often quietly allowing her to lead. It’s a nicely understated performance.
At the head of the cast is Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin. This English Rose has wholly transformed into the American-born journalist, including the heavy smoking (it rare to see her without a cigarette). Pike is magnificent, capturing the stubbornness of this amazing woman while showing the side of her dealing with the aftermath of those days out in the middle of war zones. It’s a powerhouse performance and worth catching the film for her alone.
A Private War should have been an essential piece of cinema. Sadly, while the performances and some of the set pieces work, it fails to capture the heart of this woman and the wars around her. Fascinating, yes, but it doesn’t make you sit up and take note. For that, you need to turn to Under The Wire. Having said that, Rosamund Pike is fantastic.