In most instances, the horrors of war are depicted in film form from a male military standpoint. Recently, feature narratives including Oscar-nominees like Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge and American Sniper have placed audiences in the trenches of war — wars that span the globe and encompass an extensive timeline.
A lot can be understood, too, when a war story is taken from the perspective of someone whose job isn’t to actually fight, but, instead, to observe and report. These men and women are appropriately hailed as heroes in their own right — journalists who risk their lives to seek the truth and convey to the world what they have witnessed.
No one is quite as deserving of that distinction than late war correspondent Marie Colvin, who in 1986 began her career writing from the frontlines of every major conflict in the Middle East. In A Private War, first-time feature filmmaker and Oscar-nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) and screenwriter Arash Amel (Grace of Monaco) capture the grit, fearlessness and obsession for her work that shaped who Colvin was when she was embedded on the battlefield. (Colvin died in Syria in 2012 while covering the country’s civil war).
Portraying Colvin is Oscar-nominated British actress Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), a role that has to be one of the most physically demanding in her last 20 years. Narrating Colvin’s thoughts throughout the film, Pike gives moviegoers a glimpse of her tenacity for her profession and strength needed in battle, even after she loses her eye in a grenade attack in Sri Lanka in 2001. “Make that suffering part of the record,” she says as if physical pain was always a component of her job description.
Throwing herself in the dirt to dodge bullets, however, wasn’t the only suffering Colvin had to endure. Heineman and Amel explore Colvin’s alcoholism and PTSD, both of which resulted from the war-zone nightmares she was consistently haunted by. “You’ve seen more than most soldiers,” a colleague tells her at one point in the film. Pike’s confident performance maximizes these mentally draining scenes, and the script manages to help with some of the heavy lifting.
All the same, in A Private War, Pike is perfectly capable of carrying the film on her own. Whether she sits down to interview a heartless dictator face to face or watches the unearthing of a mass grave holding the remains of Saddam Hussein victims, Pike’s intense passion and genuine humanity shine through.
At a time when journalists are being labeled “the enemy of the people” from the highest levels of our own government, A Private War is here to remind everyone that they’re really not.