As a simple matter of fact, most Americans have not personally been affected by the horrors of war. In this day and age, it is only those who sign up for the military, aid workers, journalists, and the like who volunteer to be part of something which most people would not want to experience for all the money in the world.
Then there are people like Marie Colvin, a longtime war correspondent whose story is told in A Private War. Played by Rosamund Pike, Colvin was a highly-respected reporter who worked for The Sunday Times in London, covering conflicts in countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Libya, and more for nearly 30 years.
The film goes into great detail about her internal conflict of needing to go to the war-torn areas of the world despite knowing full well how dangerous they can be, as evidenced by her losing an eye in an explosion. But she pushes on past the breaking point of most other people, including that of photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan), who joins Colvin on many of her excursions.
A scene toward the middle of the film details the internal struggle of Colvin. In a conversation with Conroy, she expresses the multiple contradictions of her life, a sign that while she can recognize her personal issues, she is almost powerless to change them.
While few can relate to the intense personality of Colvin, watching her throw herself into her work with abandon makes for a gripping experience. As directed by Matthew Heineman and written by Arash Amel, the film is a rarity in that it is willing to confront hard truths while rarely leavening the bleakness with lighter scenes. Without someone like Colvin — and, by extension, this film — the atrocities that take place in certain areas of the world would go unacknowledged.
It’s true of all war films, but how Heineman and his team were able to re-create the destruction of the various battles is astonishing. Computerized visual effects can account for some of it, but it seems as if the characters are entrenched in truly dangerous places, giving the film a vérité feel that does wonders for its realism.
The biggest reason the film works, though, is the performance of Pike, as sure of an Oscar nominee this year as there is. Every aspect of her performance is spot-on, including the perfect mimic of Colvin’s voice, the hunger for cigarettes and booze (both ever-present throughout the film), and the strong emotions she must show to be convincing. She lives in the role, and the film would not work without her commitment.
There is no letdown in A Private War, and that’s what makes it so good. It shows us things we sometimes don’t want to see, but with Pike's Colvin as our guide, we’re in an expert’s hands all the way.