A Private War (aka Marie Colvin) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
When thinking of dangerous jobs, one that comes to my mind almost immediately is that of a warzone reporter. While being a soldier is just as dangerous, reporters don’t find themselves armed, unable to defend themselves as they shoot with cameras as opposed to rifles. Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times was one such figure, devoting her life to covering stories that are dangerous, both to her physical and mental health. She continued on with an eyepatch and a battered mind to keep telling what needed to be told, ultimately leading to her gritty demise. Her story was covered in the 2012 article "Marie Colvin’s Private War" in Vanity Fair by Marie Brenner but now she takes on a new life in a movie.
Rosamond Pike plays Marie with a great sense of weariness. We first follow her at dinner parties and chatting with other journalists, giving closed and humble smiles. For witnessing the worst aspects of humanity in war, she holds her own well. Of course, this stability cannot last. She will later find herself caught in a crossfire and end up with an eyepatch. Marie returns home a little more frazzled but hides that terror behind booze and putting on a better face. But even she can see that face of not being a mess is melting. Dreams of dead children and combat still haunt her, making her a little bit more unstable with each vision.
Pike’s performance is rather stunning considering she doesn’t just passively go through the typical anguish of a reporter or get lost in the shuffling of war. Many sequences are reserved for her to be alone with her thoughts and observe her body, taking in how much has happened to her. Damage is present and she ignores it to keep going. During a conversation with a fellow journalist, she pulls out a decayed tooth and merely laughs it off. Marie continues to laugh and later continues to snap photos and listen to the stories of those affected by war, mothers giving tearful stories of their dead children. She’s aware that if she stops, her thoughts will crop up and throw her into a terrifying nightmare of the futility of her life and life in general. It’s one of many reasons why she jokingly denies going from covering wars to writing for the garden section of the paper.
The film does seem to spin a few drama wheels a little longer but to mostly great effect. Stanley Tucci plays a successful man who gets intimate with Marie but there’s only so far she can go with that relationship, not the least of which is her previous relationship problems. Her boss, Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander), bitterly disagrees with her choice in pursuing dangerous stories but as the wars go on it’s less about her disobedience and more out of concern for her well-being. He knows that all of these investigations are getting to her, making her PSTD far worse. After all, she was in Libya to cover the uprising. One day she was invited to interview a mostly accepting Muammar Al Gathafi. The next she’s snapping photos of his corpse while the populace celebrates his death.
A Private War thankfully doesn’t get too lost in the muck of the era for staging a wealth of events and war, allowing Pike to take charge of the picture as Marie. And she’s by far the highlight in a role she throws herself into with every inch of her soul, from her displays of a mental breakdown to observing her battered body naked in the mirror. She gives Marie the sort of gritty and emotional take that makes for a great bio-pic, even if it lays on the PTSD thick with its many flashbacks and dream sequences.