Of all of the writerly trades, there is a nobility associated to one branch that cruises at a higher altitude above all others. It is the preparedness to put-your-bits-on-the-line where safety is not guaranteed in order to unpeel fiction from fact and present the truth. A vocation strand that dictates immersion within the field of conflict armed solely with an unflinching eye and an unassuming pen.
“I see these things so that other people don’t have to”, declares Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), the eye patch-donning, multiple award-winning intrepid foreign war journalist in Matthew Heineman’s sombre A Private War.
Based upon Marie Brenner’s 2012 Vanity Fair feature, ‘Marie Colvin’s Private War’, A Private War is an account of The Sunday Times journalist’s life. It lifts the lid on what happened to an individual who relentlessly put herself literally in the line of fire. An individual who was garlanded with awards and whose name respectfully reverberated around the corridors of Fleet Street. Even the eyepatch that became her trademark was the consequence of being on duty, when an explosion in Sri Lanka whilst shadowing the Tamil Tigers almost killed her and robbed her of her left eye.
The narrative tracks Colvin’s main tours into war zones. In the process, great swathes of time are omitted in order to predominately document her work. Her loyal companion became photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) in an unlikely professional partnership that spanned years. Pike’s transformation into the eccentric Colvin is a revelation. Her voice and mannerisms – evidenced to be uncannily accurate in the archive footage shown at the conclusion – embody Colvin fully and wonderfully. It’s an Awards-worthy and Academy-courting performance.
Erik Poppe’s 1,000 Times Goodnight attempted to trace and track a war photographer’s experiences on the frontline and, despite set-pieces to make the heartrate accelerate, even Juliet Binoche couldn’t quite elevate the pedestrian nature of the wider drama. In this instance, however, the film succeeds in fulfilling its MO as both a tribute to an esteemed correspondent and also a thought-provoking piece of agitprop on the impact of war.
The cinematography by seasoned Tarantino and Scorsese cohort Robert Richardson is competent if unspectacular, and a busy 25-strong ‘producers’ list contains the like of Charlize Theron. It is a miracle that the scale of assistance enlisted by Heineman hasn’t resulted in a confusing hodge podge. To his credit, it has not.
But what of Marie Colvin? She clearly had a magnetic compunction to go where others dare not. Where did this magnetic compunction derive from? Was it motivated by an urge to reveal an obscured or hidden horror? Was it to draw attention to factories of fear and suffering promulgated in ravaged, rocky landscapes? Was it to resolve political pawn games? Or was it to stand up for frightened denizens recoiling in dilapidated tenements and/or scruffy terrain, as they looked to the outside world to step in and alleviate the agony? Was it all of the above?
A Private War greatest achievement is that it begs this consideration for someone who warranted such.
A Private War played as part of the London Film Festival 2018.