A Private War Review
Our world is a terrible, pointless place to live in. If everything hasn't gone to shit already, it will soon enough. A world where innocent children die everyday of hunger and bullet wounds is a world beyond saving. A world ruled with an iron fist by genocidal, insecure men overcompensating for the notion of "manliness" can't possibly have any good left in it.
Yet, there is good out there. There are people who still stare down the patriarchy and feeling of hopelessness on a daily basis so that we don't have to. People who give away so much of themselves bit by bit till there's not enough left for their own. One such person was Marie Colvin, a foreign press journalist who had seen more war and suffering than even some military personnel out there. I admit I knew nothing of her before this film but director Matthew Heineman takes it upon himself to bring the story of this deeply human soul to us.
What's so great about A Private War is that Heineman never goes into hero-worship territory with Colvin, played by Rosamund Pike, instead treating her as a flawed human like the rest of us. His documentary background (this is his first non-docu film) means he tells Marie Colvin's story through the impact all the death and destruction has had on her over her years as a correspondent. This film is not a reportage on war. It's a first person account of the futility of it and of the psychological scars as well as the physical ones that it manages to leave on even people who aren't even directly involved with either sides.
Heineman is not interested in concealing the horrors of war. There are enough long stays on shots of mercilessly mutilated corpses of men, women and children to be able to tell what he's going for. Closing your eyes and ignoring the evidence of mass massacres isn't going to change the reality we live in. What he does ask is, can anything change this reality or are we doomed to our fates? He doesn't answer it.
It's a good changeup for Heineman as well, whose previous documentary works have been mostly about the game and not the players. But here, he uses his roots to deliver grainy, desolate and heartbreaking scenes that seem to be shot by a cameraman actually having followed Colvin around during her time in places like Syria and Iraq, much like her friend and cameraman Paul Conroy (played by Jamie Dornan) always did. It lends the deliberately choppy narrative a sense of real danger and somber realism, a personal touch.
Rosamund Pike brings the character of Marie Colvin to life as if her own life depended on it. War had taken the vitality and life out of Colvin, for too long without killing her, taken away her beauty and left a shell of a woman in her place, and Pike looks like a haunted woman spooked by the idea of living a happy, peaceful life while there are innocent bystanders out there getting killed on a daily basis. "I diet viciously because I'm afraid of getting fat but I've also seen too many people die of hunger, so I like to eat", she says in one scene, a monologue baring her soul and the conflict within her with a lot of honesty and vulnerability. The increasing raspiness of her voice from all the cigarettes over the years, the progressively drunken way of talking, the tobacco stained teeth starting to fall out, the little changes in the style of her eye-patches and her constant fiddling with it during moments of turmoil, the perpetually wind-blown hair from all the travel across war zones, the occasional somber docu-style VO about her existential musings in the middle of wars: Pike is magnificent doing all of it and more. I doubt she'll be getting a lot of Oscars heat this year but the woman gives this film her all the way Colvin did for the victims of war. If that isn't an empathetic portrayal of Colvin, I'm not sure what is.
Jamie Dornan turns out to be surprisingly (good) understated and he does pretty well in the final moments of the film. The rest of the cast, including Tom Hollander and Stanley Tucci, play their bits with confidence as well.
There's enough evil out there. Mankind hates itself enough to prefer obliteration over peaceful harmony. But till that fate comes to pass, any good that's still out there still needs to be seen, supported and applauded. A Private War leaves you destroyed but somehow plants the seed of motivation too. You can take your first step towards doing your bit for this world by watching Matthew Heineman's film at theaters this weekend. No better time to start than the present.
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