It’s easy to forget just how brutal war can be when it’s something we only see through our television screens or read about in articles. It’s even easier to forget about the reporters and photographers who embed themselves directly in the warzones so we can have that daily news update. Just like the soldiers, they’re there to do a job. In 2001, no one was doing a better job than Marie Colvin, who lost her eye in an explosion from an RPG while reporting during the Sri Lankan Civil War. A Private War is a harrowing biopic that confronts the casualties of war with Rosamund Pike delivering one of the best performances of her career.
Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) has been covering wars for her entire career and while the loss of sight in her left eye in 2001 left her impaired, it didn’t impact her ability to do her job. As the years go by and she moves from one warzone to the next, the various horrors she witnesses begins to take an emotional toll on her. Yet even as Marie becomes more beligergent with those around her and prefers the companionship of a bottle more than a person, what continues to drive her is making sure the stories of those caught in the crossfire are heard.
Rather than the typical soldier’s perspective, A Private War showcases the horrors of war through the viewpoint of journalists, namely Marie Colvin and war photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan). Taking place over a period of over a decade, we see Colvin from when she loses her eyesight leading up to her final conflict in Homs, Syria. It can be difficult to watch at times as Matthew Heineman does a great job at capturing the casualties of war and how these firefights leave entire cities completely devastated.
Rosamund Pike is phenomenal as Marie Colvin, and it may arguably rival Gone Girl for her best work. She always has this hard, outer shell that gives her the strength to go into these conflicts day in and day out, but as the film progresses you can see the toll it’s taking on her and the other journalists. What I like about A Private War is that these aren’t soldiers we’re seeing. They aren’t the ones doing the fighting. They’re in the thick of it just to capture what’s happening.
I would have liked to see more of Dornan’s Paul Conroy and the internal struggle he must have gone through as a war photographer and that fact that he’s there to simply document the war. Reporters are put in that interesting position of being a part of a war but not necessarily on either side of it. There’s a scene in which a group of villagers are trying to resuscitate a child following a bombing, and Conroy is filming it with Colvin watching from a distance. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be knowing that there is nothing you can do.
A Private War highlights what it takes to be a war reporter, and Rosamund Pike honors Marie Colvin’s name with a commanding performance. It’s very much a personal story that’s caught up in a larger setting that, at the end of it all, will leave you with a greater appreciation of what people like Colvin do.