A Private War movie cast: Rosamund Pike, Tom Hollander, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci
A Private War movie director: Matthew Heineman
A Private War movie rating: 3 stars
As journalists, we are all story-tellers, hoping to tell a story that resonates, across worlds, miles, differences. Marie Colvin hoped to do that from war zones. The celebrated war correspondent of Sunday Times, she covered conflicts from Sri Lanka and East Timor to Chechnya and the Middle East, between 1986 and 2012 (26 long, long years). She lost an eye and got her famous pirate-like eye patch at one such place (Lanka) and died at another (Homs, Syria).
Rosamund Pike, that actress who defies her innocent good looks for an incredible range of roles, plays Colvin here. It is a completely un-self-conscious performance where, as Colvin’s obsession with her work takes a toll on her and others around, Pike gradually becomes a woman surviving on cigarettes and willpower alone, ravaged from inside, painfully old from outside, unsteady on her feet but unable to let go of what she saw as her duty. Roles for powerful women like Colvin are rare on screen; it’s rarer still for that power to come solely out of the strength of their work, making no concessions for womanly ‘sacrifices’.
But this powerhouse performance is undermined to a large degree, ironically, by how the story of Colvin’s life plays out on screen. We catch up with her when she is already a known byline, and is headed to Lanka, where soon after she loses her eye. What follows is a portrayal of a woman in decline, even as the journalist marches on. It doesn’t seem like the complete tale of what brought Colvin here, in what couldn’t have been an easy battle to be a woman covering a war zone. From Lanka onwards, A Private War also unfolds like a rushed primer on one conflict after another, interspersed with episodes of what is happening with Colvin as she battles with ghosts of what she has seen at battle. For a time, this battle also lands her in a facility.
Director Heineman, who is known for his documentaries, goes to great lengths though to stage those conflicts authentically, from Lanka to Homs. The actors playing those bit parts seem real, and the dangers that Colvin and a photographer she came to work with, Paul Conroy (Dornan), close and current. The Homs chapter is the mast harrowing, and the most effective.
Colvin tells her editor (Hollander) once that she puts herself through seeing those scenes in battle so that “you don’t have to”. And that she keeps doing what she does because she “cares”, and hopes her stories would make “others care enough too”. As the Syrian war drags into its seventh year, we know the hopelessness of Colvin’s second wish. And can only be grateful for her for her faith.