LFF 2018: A Private War (2018)
War, what is it good for? After watching documentary filmmaker Mathew Heineman’s narrative debut the answer is clearly absolutely nothing. A Private War is a biopic which follows war correspondent Marie Colvin through her stellar career.
The true horrors of war are never an easy thing to see and war reporter Marie Colvin had been to them all in the last 20 years or so. She dared to go where others wouldn’t (Iraq, Libera and Syria). Rosamund Pike plays Colvin the award-winning journalist who it seems is more at home on the front line and in danger than when she is at home in London. She is not a likeable person, she struggles in social occasions and only seems to find peace when her life is in danger.
The film begins with an overhead shot of Homs (Syria) in 2012. It is completely destroyed, buildings are barely standing and there aren’t any signs of any life. A voiceover of Colvin can be heard being interviewed on why she does what she does. It quickly backtracks to earlier parts of her career. The film sets off re-playing key points in her life that will eventually lead to that fateful day in Homs.
We have seen films like this before but what sets A Private War apart is that this is so recent. This isn’t years and years ago. This is a conflict that is still happening. There is no turning away and not showing what is actually happening in Syria, it dares to be truthful (much like Colvin). Strong images of dead bodies of adult and children are offered held for an uncomfortable long time. Heineman isn’t doing this by mistake, he wants you to see it, he wants to put you on the front line with Colvin, to see what she saw, experience what she went through.
Rosamund Pike really does capture the spirt and voice of Marie Colvin. This may be her best performance. It is definitely her best turn since Gone Girl. It is frustrating to watch her slip further and further into depression and PTSD. Marie is not really a likeable character, so being invested in her story can solely be attributed to Pike’s performance
There is also strong support from the rest of the cast. Tom Hollander is Sean Ryan her editor at the London’s Sunday Times. His overly caring but really pushy act is well balanced. He wants the stories, but it is really worth putting Marie in those situations? By the end, you can see the torment all over his face. Jamie Dornan’s plays Paul Convoy Marie’s trusted photographer who will follow her anywhere. Dornan’s Liverpudlian accent is just about passable. In some scenes, it just disappears completely. Stanley Tucci also has a small role but he pretty much plays himself (which isn’t a bad thing).
A Private War really lands when it eventually gets to Syria and the final 40 minutes is as tense and dramatic as anything that has been seen this year. The first hour, on the other hand, is a little clumsy. It bounces around from past to present and then back again in an uneasy fashion. It just needed to be a little smoother. It does get a little confusing which doesn’t help when you are just to connect to characters and the storyline.
When A Private War focuses on Marie Colvin covering at the front it really does deliver, but it is when she back in the UK and dealing with her inner demons that the film really struggles. Thankfully, Pike puts in a barnstorming performance which could attract some buzz when it comes to award season. A biopic on a war reporter may not appeal to many but it is worth seeing for Pike alone.
Directed by: Matthew Heineman
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Faye Marsay, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander