Film Review – A Private War
A Private War
Look, protestations of “Fake News” being the “Enemy of the People” can take a flying leap. At its best, journalism can be a noble profession which seeks to both inform and enlighten its audience. One of the most important roles it can serve is to put a spotlight on the plights of people who need to whom we need to pay attention. There are atrocities in the world that require being broadcast so they can be fixed. And the journalists who work these sometimes thankless jobs can suffer while doing so. Such is the case in the quite fine film A Private War.
Rosamund Pike stars as celebrated journalist Marie Colvin. She had a long career reporting from some of the most dangerous parts of the world. She did so for multiple decades and this movie shows the toll it took on her. The film starts in the early 2000s. By then she’s already been reporting since the 1980s. But on a trip to highlight bombings in Sri Lanka she is hit by a grenade and loses one of her eyes. For the rest of her life she wore a distinct eye patch. She chain smokes and drinks frequently. You get the sense that she is tearing through her day to day life in an effort to dull the misery she’s witnessed first hand. She makes alliances with fellow journos in the trenches including Jamie Dornan who plays her photographer. They continue to go to the most worn torn reaches of the planet. But they are only armed with a camera, a laptop, and an almost insane need to witness. Colvin routinely runs towards danger from which even soldiers are retreating. Back at home she increasingly has trouble dealing with normal life. Just as if she were one of those soldiers, she is dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that she tries to both ignore and tough through. But seeing children literally die in her arms or hearing stories of innocent civilians being raped or tortured has taken its toll.
But her bold reporting continues. She did one of the last interviews with Muammar Gaddafi in Libya before his death. Stanley Tucci plays a successful publisher who takes a shine to Colvin. They end up being what each other needs in many ways. But none of this stops her from her climactic reportage from the besieged Syrian city of Homs in 2012 where she reported live on CNN the atrocities of the Erdogan government. Both Colvin and her fellow reporters risked genuine life and limb to get that story.
Pike is terrific in the title role. Her gruff voice and driven determination are a sight to behold. This performance should be remembered come awards season. The director, Matthew Heineman, comes from a documentary background and it shows. The movie is structured with frequent hard cuts to flashbacks of witnessed brutalities that intrude on current life. It helps get the audience into Colvin’s headspace. This was a tough lady who had a tough job which she pursued while it took a real psychological toll.
Now, there are criticisms that could fairly be leveled. This could once again be used as an example of Hollywood’s tendency towards the “White Savior” story. In this case a white lady heroically champions the cause of peasants in the third world with the actual people suffering used as props in her story. And a great many of those she interviews come and go throughout the film without us knowing them well. We’ll hear the relating of a terrible torture or loved one being murdered in front of them, and then we follow our hero along her journey never to see that person again. There’s not really any refuting that point other than to say this is the story of a journalist whose focus was in the right place. Whether the film shares that focus is a little less clear.
That being said, this movie really is quite good. Again, Pike’s inhabiting of this real-life hero is compelling. And given the recent headlines, being reminded of the good that can be done by news professionals is timely. A Private War is well worth seeing.