A Private War

*****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

A Private War
"Heineman’s docu-style fits perfectly into the look and sound of things." | Photo: Altitude

What is it about violence and death that fascinates people? They are not involved (yet). They have escaped (for the moment). They read about it in the paper.

Who wrote the piece in the paper? Who wants to put their life in mortal danger again and again for the sake of a story? What makes a war correspondent? What unmakes one?

Copy picture

Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) was American, bottle blonde, definitely a looker who lost the sight in one eye while covering the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and so wore a black patch, pirate style, which made her instantly recognisable.

She talked about what it felt like. “Fear comes later when it’s all over,” she said. She worked in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria for The Sunday Times and concentrated as much as possible on ordinary people, often children, innocents on the run.

Colvin’s story, ending as it does on the dark side of expectation is made for Hollywood with its glamour, courage, excitement, gender, dedication. Words wrapped in sugar leaves. The heart bleeds.

New Yorker Matthew Heineman thought he would be a teacher when he grew up but made documentary films instead. This is his first narrative, which is another way of saying “based on real events, real people,” not as absolute as a biopic but technically more honest than a silver lining. He turns the romance of Beauty And The Beast on its head. War is a mess. Trust no one, trust nothing, although she does. Chaos is cruelty. Chaos is freedom. Stories lie in the bonebacks of bad dreams. Filing copy, like breathing, announces, I am still here.

Heineman’s docu-style fits perfectly into the look and sound of things. Pike is English which you would not notice. Acting of this quality is as close to the real deal as blood on the wire. Neither she nor the director are attempting a whitewash. If truth is the rough edge of experience, Colvin struggles to carry the weight.

“The chatter in my head won’t go quiet unless I have a quarter of vodka inside me.” The film doesn’t lie down with language. The concept of heroism feels like someone else’s dream of better. At last being a journalist is recognised as a dangerous profession and the enemy uses the fear factor to their advantage. The news editor in London (Tom Hollander) survives on stress as Colvin survives on cigarettes. What are they doing? Colvin wants readers to care like she does until she doesn’t know any more as the horror gathers.

Love is a stranger in this killing field, Certain words have lost their meaning. Friendship has strength. Sex is like hunger. Madness has meaning and stays close.

The film refuses to make it easy and yet is rich. Financially? With integrity.

Reviewed on: 08 Feb 2019
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Biopic of The Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin while on assignment in Syria.

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London 2018

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