A Private War Review

A Private War

There is at least one conspicuous absence from the list of nominees for Best Actress in this year’s Academy Awards.

Rosamund Pike, previously nominated for the 2015 Oscars, was overlooked this time. Having recently watched A Private War, it’s hard to see why.

The film recounts the life of American journalist Marie Colvin (played by Pike), who covered multiple foreign conflicts during the course of her remarkable career.

The film opens with a shot of the ruined city of Homs in Syria in 2012, and a voiceover of Marie Colvin being interviewed and contemplating what advice she would give to aspiring journalists.

We then jump back to 2001, which is framed as the first event in a countdown to Homs.

Colvin, already holding a strong reputation with her colleagues by this stage, argues with her editor, Sean Ryan (an excellent Tom Hollander) about the need to cover the Civil War in Sri Lanka. Ryan is worried about safety but eventually relents, seeming to know he won’t win the argument.

In Sri Lanka, despite revealing herself to be a journalist, Colvin is attacked. An RPG strikes near her group, resulting in her losing sight in the left eye. She is treated for her injuries in hospital but still manages to make the deadline for her story.

The film then jumps forward to Colvin’s reporting assignments in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, all the while moving towards the events in Homs in 2012.

Along the way, we see how Colvin is haunted by her experiences and how she ultimately seeks treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

We also see glimpse her private life, such as her marriages to Patrick Bishop, and her various other love interests, including one played by Stanley Tucci.

The main focus is on Colvin’s relationship with freelance photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan), who accompanies her on several assignments.

Though the film suggests that Colvin has a serious issue with alcohol, it depicts her addiction to danger as the greatest problem. It is also seen as her greatest strength, propelling her into places no one else would venture, and reporting back news that no one would otherwise hear.

Pike, as mentioned, gives a blistering performance as Colvin. Charlize Theron’s name pops up as producer in the credits, which suggests that she herself was once interested in the role, but it is now difficult to see anyone but Pike pull it off with such believability; she manages to accomplish the difficult act of juggling Colvin’s gutsiness and courage with her vulnerability and feelings of helplessness.

Arash Amel’s script also injects some dark humour into proceedings, which feels appropriate. As they are undergoing artillery fire in Syria, Colvin quips to Conroy that this is the last time she books a vacation online.

Praise also goes to documentary-maker and first-time feature film director Matthew Heineman, who gets strong performances from all of his cast and gained recognition form the Directors Guild of America for his efforts.

Sure, it’s a biopic which deals with a subject so serious that it defies criticism; so it would be easy to cynically categorise the film as awards-bait, but that doesn’t mean it’s not deserving.

Much like the journalism of its protagonist, this is a hard hitting and thought-provoking piece of work which demands a wide audience.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

February 2019