One of the peculiar qualities of “A Private War”, a film about a journalist’s life, is that it also becomes the visual embodiment of that journalist’s writing. That writing is laced with amazing clarity, vigor, and poetic calls to action. The journalist is Marie Colvin, a woman of extraordinary conviction and resolve - a daredevil of sorts. She worked for The Sunday Times as a foreign correspondent, covering conflicts and wars around the world, in search of human stories of devastation that are often buried behind military and political cloaks. She waged her own private war, as described in a Vanity fair article, the titular and narrative basis for this movie.
So, “A Private War” draws from Colvin’s writing, reciting it at times to help the viewer get into the psyche of a person who braved a string of truly terrifying experiences. The narrative dwells into Colvin’s evolving rationale as she chooses to ignore fear while repeatedly walking into the line of fire, sometimes literally; all in the pursuit of the truth the world needs to hear, in times when no one else is willing to tell it. At one point, her editor tells Colvin that we need her to go into these war zones because no one else can.
On that note, Colvin’s writing itself is staggering, scalpel sharp, focused, and deep. The movie personifies this in many ways - including the tack-sharp editing which keeps the movie going and the tone tense, pulsating, and edgy. There are a couple of missteps where the film over-stylizes itself to visualize Colvin’s mindset, scrambling its narrative style one too many times. But one can easily ignore these within the larger setup of the film. When it’s not depicting war and its brutalities in honest detail, the movie spends time with the aftereffects and consequences of violence and how it impacts Colvin’s private life in London. There is so much elegance at play, making this film a good companion piece to another similar marvel, “A Thousand Times Goodnight”, starring the ever-fabulous Juliette Binoche.
There’s a second crucial peculiarity to “A Private War”. This is one of those movies where everything else steps aside for a singular, remarkable performance from an actor - in this case, a phenomenal act by Rosamund Pike. It is one of those acts where the actor embodies the person they’re playing - there is some physical transformation, but more so, transformation in how she sounds, moves, laughs, cries, and even just ponders in silence. She brings a ferocious magnetism to the screen, which director Matthiew Heineman duly recognizes and leaves uninhibited.
Every so often, an actor emerges with a sudden burst of energy in their filmography. Maybe they’ve a better agent now or they have turned a corner in their life or career philosophy. Rosamund Pike seems to be on that stride - delivering a string of marvelous films like Gone Girl, Hostiles, Radioactive, and the upcoming I Care a Lot.
“A Private War” has one of those scintillating performances - all in service of the life and work of a terrific woman, Marie Colvin.
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