Review: A Private War

The person played by Rosamund Pike in this harrowing biopic is supposed to be American war correspondent Marie Colvin, who died in 2012 covering the civil war in Syria. However, early on there’s a sense that Matthew Heineman’s film intends to be the last word on battle-hardened journalists and the woman Pike plays could really be any battle-hardened journalist. With her alcoholism, inability to keep loved ones close, and obsession with being as close to danger as possible, she doesn’t even have to be a woman; which is to say, A Private War never really makes a case for Colvin’s storied cynicism and self-destructiveness because it’s all presented as a generic given.

This aspect comes into clear perspective whenever Colvin’s editor at the London Times, Sean (Tom Hollander), strolls into view. A pure greed hound, Sean doesn’t need to do much to prod Colvin back into situations where she stands a good chance of being killed, though much of his “charm” is in the way he couches his proddings in compliments and ego-stroking, exploiting her need to get at “the truth” with assurances that no one else can do what she does. This is pure cliche. Surely, the kind of give-and-take that a reporter of Colvin’s caliber had with her superiors was more nuanced and fraught than this. Here, it comes across as bullying and coercion, but with an intellectual gloss. That Colvin falls for it seems suspect, but, then again, the film protrays her as being driven only by ambition.

The only real conflict involved is between Colvin the poet (she struggles over her style mightily—Hemingway is referenced at least once) and Colvin the documentarian. It is lives that she covers, not policies or ideas. Much is made of how close she gets to the victims and perpetrators of war. To her, armed conflict is the biggest human interest story you can report. Eventually, of course, this intensity is the cause of her demise, her doggedness interpreted as a kind of death wish, which is a romantic construct in and of itself. After losing her eye during a skirmish with Tamil Tiger guerillas, she has to readjust her field activity for the loss in depth perception, and you can see the difficulty she’s having in the way Pike tilts her head in an attempt to assess situations into which she’s about to throw herself, regardless of the consequences. From the very first frame, A Private War presents a person who was born to die.

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001).

A Private War home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2018 APW Film LLC

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