A Private War (2018)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.  

United Kingdom/USA, 2018.  Acacia Filmed Entertainment, Savvy Media Holdings, Thunder Road Pictures, Denver and Delilah Productions, Kamala Films.  Screenplay by Arash Amel, based on the Vanity Fair article “Marie Colvin’s Private War” by Marie Brenner.  Cinematography by Robert Richardson.  Produced by Matthew George, Matthew Heineman, Basil Iwanyk, Marissa McMahon, Charlize Theron.  Music by H. Scott Salinas.  Production Design by Sophie Becher.  Costume Design by Michael O’Connor.  Film Editing by Nick Fenton.

Documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman makes his feature-film debut with a story not far removed from his own bold voyages into dangerous territory, capturing the last few years in the life of Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin.  Portrayed here by a riveting Rosamund Pike, who roughens her voice and hardens her porcelain demeanor to capture a woman most comfortable in a pair of combat boots and smoking a cigarette while being shot at, Colvin finds herself needing to face the demons that have become unavoidable after twenty years of visiting places raging with conflict and seeing so much human suffering up close.  Her friends are concerned that she isn’t taking her trauma seriously, that she needs as much as help as soldiers do when removed from war zones; she herself is haunted by images she has seen but is still addicted to her compulsion to witness these tragedies up close.  Colvin does pursue help and rest but, despite the concern coming from her exasperated editor (Tom Hollander in a wonderful performance), she needs very little prompting to get back on an airplane and head somewhere terrible, striking up a close friendship with a photographer Paul Conroy (played here by a sympathetic Jamie Dornan, with whom Pike has marvelous chemistry) that lasts until the end of her tragically short life.  Heineman admires this woman’s drive while respecting the toll her work takes on her, giving as much time to the excitement of being in the field as he does the effect it has on her mind and body (aside from some very serious post-traumatic stress disorder, Colvin also loses an eye in Sri Lanka), but in his determination to not waste his first opportunity at feature filmmaking, he does include some gracelessly unnecessary dream sequences that don’t comfortably fit with the docudrama-style narrative.  There are moments that are truly exciting, others feel like they’re out of a TV movie, but the film is kept classy thanks to Pike’s exceptional performance, which does great justice to a larger than life personality by giving a ridiculously outsized, thoroughly scrumptious performance that never quits.

Golden Globe Award Nominations:  Best Actress-Drama (Rosamund Pike); Best Original Song (“Requiem For A Private War”)

Toronto International Film Festival:  2018

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