Celebrated war correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) is a woman who is as comfortable downing martinis with high society’s elite as she is brazenly staring down warlords and fleeing from gunfire. Driven by an enduring desire to bear witness and give voice to the voiceless, Colvin charges into danger, constantly testing the limits between bravery and bravado.
Marie Colvin was quite a woman. A foreign affairs correspondent, lost an eye on the job (a career hazard for going where no one dares) and killed in Homs, Syria for telling the truth. Yet these rudimentary facts don’t even come close to summing her up as a person as I soon found out in A Private War. No, I walked out the screening and proceeded to google the s*** out of her and read every article under the sun. What a woman.
I was lucky enough to have leading lady Rosamund Pike introduce the biopic and say a few words. Complicated, difficult and not always likeable was how Pike described Colvin. And we see evidence of this from the get go when Colvin defies her long-suffering editor and heads to the deep jungles of a Sri Lanka in 2001 to meet the Tamil Tigers with no thought of her safety. We begin to understand that with her it’s the story, always the story and damn the consequences.
You see, she lost her eye in those very jungles of Sri Lanka in a grenade attack. And she still filed the story! Not for the scoop, or to be lauded (she got that and then some anyway) but because she ‘cared and wanted other people to care’. This is the heart of the film and the heart of Colvin’s message, with its sincerity shining through.
The story continues to unfold through a series of pivotal assignments throughout Colvin’s career. From Iraq in 2003 and witnessing the anguish of wailing women finding their remains of their ‘lost’ family members, to Afghanistan in 2009 when Colvin sees the aftermath of a road side bomb. Pike delivers an astounding performance by showing how impacted Colvin is by the man-made suffering and you cannot help but shed a tear right with her.
As expected, our protagonist does not leave the war zones with just a signature eyepatch and a tear but with deep mental scars. The director, Matthew Heineman, uses jumbled sequences, with scenes abruptly moving from shelling to scenes of civilian normalcy to bring to the forefront how impossible it would be to let what you have witnessed to escape you, as Colvin never quite manages it. No, she continues to swagger, use dark humour (yes, La Perla bra worn in war zones) a vodka and cigarette at hand but the images remain forever.
Not carrying this weighty picture alone, Jamie Dornan plays photographer and Colvin’s partner, Paul Conroy. Dornan’s Conroy never does too much to curb Colvin and her convictions but just enough to jolt her out of her self-sacrificial tendencies. There is an affecting moment where Colvin lays out her contradictions and complexities to Conroy in such a way that you can connect with this troubled, brilliant, suffering woman and that is due to Pike’s authenticity in this role for she became this character and not a mimic of her.
Something brilliant to take away, is that the extras used in the making of the film where actual refugees from places Colvin reported from. This is something you don’t see at all. Those directly affected participating in the telling of their story. So, take a tissue with you because you’ll need it and please, let’s all try and care a little bit more.
A Private War is out in cinemas now.
Main image: Paul Conroy/Aviron/Kobal/Rex
Mayran Yusuf is a film critic who loves nothing better than a good scroll of @TheShaderoom on Instagram and a sucker for any drama that BBC flings out. Series link at the ready!
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