A Private War is a docudrama that shifts from London to tumultuous war zones that took a toll on its intrepid, anguished lead character.
A frizzy red-coiffed, gravelly American-accented Rosamund Pike is well cast as the boozy, headstrong, celebrated ‘Sunday Times’ correspondent Marie Colvin, maybe the more disheveled, eye-patched cousin of Veronica Guerin.
Matthew Heineman brings a distinguished, similarly fearless, fly on-the-wall background to his film after efforts like City of Ghosts, again using Syria as a key framing device in concentrating on global indignation.
From a 2012 ruined Homs (with targeting Assad forces) which would prove calamitous for Colvin and a French journalist an eleven-year rewind shows the Long Island-bred woman in London dealing with her uneasy editor (Tom Hollander) and invented romantic interests, one of which is played a customary verve by Stanley Tucci (Easy A, Margin Call, The Lovely Bones). These admiring fellows are unable to keep her from her calling to give her readers an incisive angle on the horrors in places like Libya (dealing with Col. Gaddafi), Afghanistan (with mutilated civilians), and Sri Lanka where being with an anti-government separatist sect caused the loss of her left eye. Also, her longtime photographer Paul Conroy (an understated Jamie Dornan of Fifty Shades Freed, less the rakish playboy type) would become a follower and assistant when traversing a mass grave in Iraq.
Scribe Arash Amel draws from a posthumous Vanity Fair profile by Marie Brenner with arguably superfluous threads. Still, a decent enough modulation occurs in elucidating the nature of Colvin’s coverage within the immersive brutality which would have a physical and mental toll. The assignments of Marie not portrayed here included Chechnya, Lebanon, Egypt, and the West Bank which manifested an indefatigable resolve not driven by the story feeding into the British actress’s handy repertoire or displaying any noteworthy technical flourishes.
Pike, whose work has ranged from Pride & Prejudice, An Education to Jack Reacher, Gone Girl and Hostiles, provides an intriguing character study about living with refutations, a sophisticatedly committed, if guarded effort in challenging the agonizing. It realizes honest-to-goodness incorporeal tones of “fear comes later, when it’s all over” in ways that Heineman effectively adjusts the focus, even larger than an inspirational risk-taker who probably didn’t like being on the front-lines. As reporting goes now in an increasing digital age an unfamiliar Colvin (especially on this side of the Atlantic) is definitely worth the investigating.