Within ten days of writing this review, there will be two films that deal with its subject matter. I am not sure that there has ever been a time that a narrative and documentary film about the same person have come this close together, much less theatrically, but if a subject could pull off both garnering a level of success, it is war correspondent Marie Colvin.
She is one of the most daring and decorated reporters of our time, having covered conflicts around the world since 1986, her level of bravery and guts to go where most reporters would not go in order to get the truth of what is really going on in areas we would not know about otherwise is nothing short of fascinating, and the narrative version of her story is called “A Private War” because this story is SO much more than that.
Rosamund Pike plays Colvin, whose story is told from just as the twenty-first century gets under way as she gets her signature eye patch after a grenade takes her down in Sri Lanka. She does not let that deter her as she blazes her own trail to sneak behind (and push) the lines of where foreign press is allowed to show the real stories of war in Europe and Asia. Along the way, she meets her photographer in the form of Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan), whom is willing to follow her to the deepest depth while trying to be her conscience at the same time to help keep her out of deeper danger.
I know I have written this before, but it is especially important here to say to do as little research as possible before seeing either version of this story. I did not, and I feel like that just did more to keep me on the edge of my seat as this story unfolds. Documentarian Matthew Heineman translates that style here very well to take the audience right into the middle of what Colvin and Conroy are working in. If there is anything more than a minimal use of score here, I would be surprised as I was so focused on what was going on during the film that any secondary noise was either not there or I was blocking it out. I lost count of the number of times that I almost said out loud “Oh dear, don’t show this…” but not in a way that I thought would be gratuitous or needless to the story; this was more from an anxiety standpoint.
And that is where “A Private War” is about more than Marie Colvin’s career. The aspect that simply takes this film to the next level is the “behind the scenes” aspect of her story. Given the human condition and the things she subjects herself to, it is only natural that some aspects of her adventures would stay with her no matter what, and this is portrayed in both a respectful and heart-wrenching way. If there is any criticism of this film, it would be that I would have liked to see this delved into a bit deeper, but that did not take me out of it.
Pike herself can seem to be a bit over the top for those uninitiated, but again without doing research I did not know what to expect. With a brief moment of Colvin herself at the tail end, I realized that this performance was simply razor-sharp in its accuracy. She brings Colvin’s boldness and bull-in-a-china-shop attitude by the boatload that is a beautiful tribute to the woman and her work with a script that has more meat for her to work with than a chain of Brazilian steakhouses. Dornan also shines here, knowing to keep Conroy in that “second banana” lane while establishing him as a strong-willed person on his own.
There is no other way to say it but simply this: “A Private War” is a film that MUST be seen, and if the documentary version in “Under the Wire” is anything nearly as captivating as this (and trust me, I am INTERESTED), I cannot wait to have both of these in the “watched and enjoyed” category.