The distinction within journalism is sharply illustrated here in the biographical story of Marie Colvin, a war correspondent for The Times. She sets out to report directly from the front lines in the wars in Sri Lanka, Libya, Iraq and Syria and strikes out as an uncompromising humanitarian across the 80s to the 2010s.
Marie is portrayed by Rosamund Pike in her fiercest and most emotionally raw character in recent memory. Tracking her exploits to the front lines the film suffers from condensing her life into a two-hour film, but the point is made about her sacrifice and goals.
The film concerns itself with the atrocities which were reported by Marie and the wars she was investigating, the toll of which brings her to the edges of sanity. This is coupled with her troubled relationships back home in London, from her on-again off-again first husband to her last partner. Director Matthew Heineman inventively blurs dream and reality whenever Marie suffers a panic attack from her PTSD, through scenes of blurred reality akin to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind except filled with rubble, mortar and corpses. In a scene where Marie enters home to find it blown apart; only after a stiff drink does normality return. It’s a devastatingly clever bit of blocking which pulls the audience in to the never-ending trauma these manic and demanding wars take which never really leave the screen.
Co-star Jamie Dornan is impressively warm as her photographer, Paul Conroy, who meets Marie on assignment. Frequently Paul is the one pleading with Marie to return to a safe haven when they have their story, but Marie pushes forward discovering more than what lies beneath the surface.
The first big impact on her life starts in Sri Lanka, where she’s caught in a crossfire and loses an eye. After the initial shock Marie appears to be in good spirits in public, adopting gallows humour and laughing at the idea of wearing an eye patch; noticeably the tone changes when she is alone and the pain sets in. It makes her determination to continue reporting all the more courageous, exclaiming that she couldn’t turn away from these wars even if she wanted to.
The film jumps across years and wars seamlessly, but this only compounds the feeling that the film is a shallow examination of her life. The personal examination of Marie is dealt with in such fine brush strokes, it’s like watching someone paint a portrait in exquisite detail, but the events around her are a landscape painted with broad brush strokes and seamless transitions. It’s an odd film to feel so fulfilled in one area but to neglect another, but this is a film about Marie and her work, not the wars which she reported in.
For One Night Only, Q&A with Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Paul Conroy and Matthew Heineman, broadcast live to cinemas February 4.
A Private War is in cinemas February 15th, 2019.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.
Read more of our film and entertainment features here.