To portray war is to participate in it. The fearless Sunday Times Foreign Affairs correspondent Marie Colvin had seen her fair share of war before sacrificing her own life to uncover the ugly truths about the Syrian War in 2012.
In February 2012 Colvin entered the Syrian war zone illegally, trying to report on the actual toll of the war without government permission. With a few other journalists and photographers, she made her way to Homs.
Her final broadcast aired on February 21 on BBC, Channel 4, CNN and ITN News, where she spoke about the critical situation in Syria via satellite phone. She spoke about being stationed in a media center, also a makeshift medical shelter, where she and her colleagues watched civilians, many innocent children, die before their very eyes.
A Private War, based on the Vanity Fair piece ‘Marie Colvin’s Private War’ by Marie Brenner was directed by Matthew Heineman, whose previous project City of Ghosts allowed him to dip into the subject matter before. It stars Rosamund Pike (of Gone Girl fame) as the titular hero Colvin, Tom Hollander as Sean Ryan, Colvin’s editor, Jeremie Laheurte as award-winning French photographer Remi Ochlik, who also lost his life in the attack, and Jamie Dornan as photographer Paul Conroy, a close confidante of Colvin’s.
The film chronicles the last decade of Marie Colvin’s life. Alongside Pike we experience how Colvin lost sight in her left eye in Sri Lanka, where she was hit by a blast, and since has worn an eyepatch. While accompanying Colvin, and later Conroy on their trips from one war zone to another, we learn about the work they do, and how their stories contribute to the reporting of the war.
Despite winning awards and acclaim for her work, the mental and emotional toll it took on the woman herself doesn’t go unnoticed. She returns home suffering from severe PTSD, nightmares, and starts developing a drinking habit to numb the pain.
We learn a lot about Colvin’s private life too, her failed marriage, her difficult relationships, her wish to have children one day, despite several miscarriages. The film shows the terror that Colvin herself goes through by visiting the war and by immersing herself in it. Every so often she asks herself ‘What difference does it make?’
Rosamund Pike is outstanding as Colvin, completely transforming herself. She takes on the American accent and vocal tone of the reporter with ease, making it hard to distinguish her voice from Colvin’s, who is featured in an interview in the opening and closing scenes of the film. Pike is gritty, she is messy, and she is powerful. But she is also broken, and compassionate, and soft. She is front and center of this film, which was to be expected, and she braves it with grace. Colvin dedicated her life to her career, and Pike embodies that well.
As gripping and tantalizing as A Private War is, it has its weaker moments. They are, surprisingly so, far away from the battlefield. While it is interesting to learn about Colvin’s private life, her romance with Stanley Tucci (who is seriously wasted in this role) seems misplaced, and takes us out of the story.
Opening strongly with the attack in Sri Lanka A Private War then dips, before returning for a strong, captivating final act. Colvin’s final moments, reporting live to a number of news channels while being under attack leaves you breathless.
A Private War, which has not yet received an official UK release date, is the second film about Colvin’s life released this year. The gritty documentary Under the Wire, based on Paul Conroy’s book with the same title was released by Dogwoof earlier this year and focuses on their time in Syria together.