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“A Private War” is a thoughtful, visceral look at journalist Marie Colvin’s experiences

Rosamund Pike and Jamie Dornan in a still from A PRIVATE WAR

It is hard to quantify the true face of war. Everyday, people look at the news and hear stories about mass deaths, violence and acts of pure evil in different war-torn countries, where ordinary people have become victims ─ victims who need to have their stories told. Most are lucky to have a safe detachment from these warring corners of the world, but some brave few are tasked to bring those stories back home, who feel compelled to inform the public about these injustices. Marie Colvin was one of those people.

Documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman, who previously directed the Oscar-nominated Cartel Land, shifts to a narrative picture about the legendary, award-winning Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin, who was tragically killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Homs, Syria in 2012. The film follows Colvin (played by Rosamund Pike), covering different stories from the early 2000s, starting in Sri Lanka where she lost her left eye.

These stories, which earned Colvin acclaim at home, are incredibly overwhelming and horrifying in their own ways. From Iraq to Libya, and then Syria, we see the toll these ghastly images take on her, and her insistence to push through even when she doesn’t want to. The life of a war journalist is tough, precarious, uneasy, but at the same time necessary. Colvin felt the need to give voices to people who couldn’t speak, implore people back home to care and to allow them to comprehend these different calamities.

Colvin keeps seeing images in her head from past reportings. She keeps asking herself why she keeps going back, risking her life and pushing the limits to get the stories that any other journalist would find impossible to write about. But who else would dare? As her editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) says in the film, no one “normal” would ever do the things that these journalists do.

Heineman expertly focuses on the nuance of these situations rather than the ever-revolving and dizzying political implications of the different conflicts portrayed. Colvin, more than anything, wanted to show people the human cost of evil, and Heineman understands this. Scenes are stunningly staged with wide open environments that allow the people in the frame to move around and live within them. People and places feel real and incredibly immersive, thanks to legendary cinematographer Robert Richardson, bringing us closer to the emotions at play. Pike gives an incredible performance as Colvin, complimented by good work from Jamie Dornan (who plays photographer Paul Conroy) and Tom Hollander.

Some of the dialogue however wasn’t particularly well written, and the film does have a tendency to spell things out for the audience. But this still remains one of the best movies of the year, and anyone interested in Calvin's story, or wants to understand the sacrifices journalists make to tell important truths, then the film is essential viewing.

Grade: A

aalmutairi@theeagleonline.com

A Private War is in theatres November 15.


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