Matthew Heineman (director)
15 February 2019 (released)
13 February 2019
What is clear from this film is that Marie Colvin was a brilliant writer, a humanitarian, clever and incredibly brave and flawed. A Private War attempts to lay out these strands and from there pull together what drove her. It’s not entirely successful.
Opening in the ravaged city of Homs, the film is chaptered by her reporting from Sri-Lanka (where she lost an eye and after adopted the eyepatch), Iraq, Afghanistan Libya and then Syria. These sequences when she is working in the war zones (A point made by a shrink while she is having treatment Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that she has probably experienced more wars than most soldiers), in amongst the fighters, interviewing tyrants and observing, recording the plight of refugees with fragments of her own reporting, are powerful and give some intro to her character.
Away from that arena, A Private War delves into her private life which was something of a mess, with divorce and lovers, also bordering, or was, an alcoholic. This is actually quite dull stuff, for the viewer, as she flits between social dos, awards ceremonies, fights with the paper about stories, or drinking. During a drunken lunch she boorishly insists on smoking in the restaurant.
To compound this these segments are massively overwritten by Arash Amel where everything is a statement, where witty rapport and exchanges replace conversations. In small doses fine but this is churned out and badly effects the flow of the film as well as being extremely irritating.
Nevertheless by and large the cast cope with this verbiage and deliver solid if not particular memorable performances. Though two stand out: Jamie Doran as Paul Conroy Colvin’s friend and hardened photojournalist is a foil for Rosamund Pike’s Colvin. And this is Pike’s film conveying Colvin’s integrity and drive for the story and the truth, her strengths and her frailties.
Matthew Heineman is a documentary maker which is obvious in parts, and is technically sound in all areas which is nothing more than you would expect if you have Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Richardson involved.
They do come together in sync in the most affecting sequence in the film when Colvin reports from Homs direct to the world via CNN. It’s an incredible piece of writing and passion, using Colvin’s own words, taking the viewer right into the horror and desperation of the situation.
However the fractious narrative, while understandable, has the effect of rendering the viewer no more than an observer and as good as the central performances are it’s not as involving, or empathetic as it should be.
This would probably have been more effective as documentary that focused on Marie Colvin’s journalism and her words, but we already have last year's Under the Wire. The hope is that people who see A Private War will go on to read Colvin’s work.