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.
Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
In 2020, you’d be easily forgiven for confusing an article on The Onion for actual news. Or vice-versa. That does not take anything away from the increasing relevance of a publication like The Onion, which has never shied away from using acutely acerbic satire to comment on the political miscreants of the times. This argument about The Onion’s relevance and importance can surely be extrapolated to the general relevance of art forms involving satire, and the larger entity of comedy. Comedians, by way of different media, have always been at the forefront of political activism.
This premise accentuates the timeliness and importance of a film like “Jojo Rabbit”, which is the most inventive form of satirical cinema I have seen that is not a Coen Brothers’ film. I say inventive, because this movie is a careful conception, a work of designed brilliance, a deliberate formulation that ends up being completely uncanny, surreal, and on point. I guess you can say that about all great movies, can’t you?
This inventiveness spotlights how accomplished a creator Taika Waititi (Writer-Director) is. Walking away from the film, it is initially hard to fathom that this very director also made the wacky “Thor: Ragnarok”. On second thoughts though, If you put both of them under a surgical scalpel, you can see the similarities in style - both are films bathing in goofy humor, yet so full of both art and heart. This style becomes especially resonant when applied to the subject of “Jojo Rabbit”.
There’s an inconsequential yet heartbreaking scene about halfway into “The Florida Project”. In an Orlando motel that is full of struggling families living paycheck to paycheck, it is time for one of the families, a Dad and his young son, to leave. All of their belongings just about fit into their car, a beaten Honda Civic. The son brings along one of their last pieces of luggage, a box of toys. When the box does not fit in the car, his dad, proceeds to give the toys away to the kids in the neighborhood. He apologizes to his son, promising to buy new toys once they reach their destination.
I remember being a kid and being heartbroken every time I lost a toy or had one broken, let alone having to give one up for trivial reasons. As a kid, your toys become your gateways to an imagined universe. And it is not just toys that define one’s childhood. Your friends become your companions on journeys into this imagined universe. Your family becomes your universe, the essence and ethos of it.
The logical mind might think that childhood is all fun and frolic, with only a little trouble thrown in. Yet, childhood has a lot more to it - there are the real and imagined universes, populated by toys, friends, and family. Within these, there is innocence and its constant struggle to ward off prejudice. There is purity in emotion. There is mischief masquerading as your ultimate friend, and sweetness seeking to be your purpose. There is also the subtle embodiment of nascent fibers that may then get thrown out or nurtured later on in life. In many ways, childhood is a strange, marvelous, and crucial time.
Atlantic City says so much about two people in a relationship, without saying too much.
A comedy that is fun, while being just good cinema in the first place.