Movie reviee: A Private War

April 01, 2020

‘ A PRIVATE WAR’ is a biopic on the life of American journalist Marie Colvin who was born in New York but worked as foreign affairs correspondent for London’s The Sunday Times. It’s based on the article “Marie Colvin’s Private War” published in Vanity Fair in 2012. 

Marie was the first to interview Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi and she was there when he was killed during the Arab spring, bringing  Christiane Amanpour with her to cover the event. She also covered risk-filled conflicts in East Timor, Kosovo, Chechnya, Sierra Lone and Zimbabwe.

In 2001, while interviewing a rebel Tamil leader in Sri Lanka, she and her crew were ambushed by the Sri Lankan Army even if she surrendered and presented herself as a journalist. She gets wounded in an explosion and loses her left eye, which is the reason why she is shown later wearing her signature eyepatch. 

This episode is shown right at the start of the movie. But even if she was injured seriously, Marie still managed to write an article about what happened and gets to meet her deadline. She is able to expose the injustice of the government in the northern Tamil region with a blockade of food and medical supplies. For this, she gets the British Journalist of the Year Award.

But she suffers from PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder and was confined in a psychiatric hospital to heal for a while. Even if she’s suffering from PTSD, she still wants to do her job and look for new stories. Hear editor, Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander), tries to restrain her from going to very dangerous places she wants to cover, like Iraq, where she hopes to locate a mass grave of people killed by Saddam. She does find it and the effect is shattering. 

This is where we get to start understanding Marie’s relentless courage after she ignores a military press briefing and still goes behind enemy territory to look for the mass grave. This is also where she meets photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan of “50 Shades of Grey” who’s unrecognizable here), who gets to work with her until her final assignment.

In February of 2012, she and Paul covered the civil war in Syria and, in the city of Homs, they found 28,000 Syrian men, women and children caught in the crossfire. This disproves to the world the claim of Syrian Pres. Bashar Assad that they are attacking only terrorists and not innocent civilians. 

Despite the danger she’s facing, Marie succeeds in sending her story to her newspaper and also appears live on CNN to make the world know what’s really happening in Syria. Sadly, that’s the last time they’ll hear from her.  

The building they’re using as a media center was ruthlessly bombed and Marie ended up lifeless in a pile of rubble. The film ends with a harrowing image of the ruined city of Homs and its wrecked buildings. Later, there’s a footage showing the real Marie Colvin saying: “You are never going to get to where you are if you’d acknowledge fear. Fear comes later when it’s all over.”

The movie is a testament to her fearlessness as an extraordinary human being. The ending says that “Over 500,000 civilians have been killed since Colvin’s death.” It has caused a major refugee crisis since Syrians now want to leave their country to move elsewhere.

In Marie’s honor, Stony Brook University consequently put up the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting. Her family also established the Marie Colvin Memorial Fund through the Long Island Community Foundation.

The film pays tribute to its subject with an honest appraisal of the hard work journalists do as they work on the front lines. It also gives Rosamund Pike a career-best performance. We first saw her as Bond girl Miranda Frost in “Die Another Die” in 2002 and she’s one of the few Bond girls who managed not to quickly fade back into oblivion. She did several other films like “Pride and Prejudice”, “Doom”, “Fracture”, “An Education”, “The World’s End”, “Jack Reacher” with Tom Cruise and even got an Oscar best actress nomination for “Gone Girl” where she played a bida-kontrabida role. As Marie Colvin, she does full justice to the role and got nominated as best drama actress in the Golden Globe.

The film itself feels episodic but it does give a clear portrait of its subject. Her idol is another female journalist, Martha Gellhorn (whose life was also filmed with Nicole Kidman playing her as the girlfriend of novelist Ernest Hemingway), whose book, “The Face of War”, she gives to another female journalist. She laments that she doesn’t have kids of her own after two miscarriages but she plays a doting aunt to the children of her best friend. She uses alcohol to numb her. “The chatter in my head won’t go quiet unless I have a quarter of vodka inside of me,” she says. 

But even that cannot fully stop the nightmares that come from her harrowing personal experiences. The film thus also succeeds in showing the devastating psychological effects of constant exposure to traumatic world events that could surely desensitize you and would surely send a much lesser person quickly to the nuthouse.