A Private War review

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Rosamund Pike and Jamie Dornan headline A Private War – and here’s our review.

Director: Matthew Heineman
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Anna Wilczek

Matthew Heineman is best known for his work as a documentary filmmaker, most notably as the director of the Oscar-nominated Cartel Land and the powerful City Of Ghosts. It therefore makes sense that his first foray into non-doc territory is with a biopic covering the final years of Sunday Times foreign affairs correspondent Marie Colvin – from her significant loss in Sri Lanka in 2001 until her death in Homs, Syria in 2012.

As with his earlier films, Heineman is less interested in the politics behind the war, but is instead invested in the importance of the human story itself and the cost of the act. This is something he shares with Colvin, who states that she does not necessarily expect to make a difference by covering the war, but rather that she feels a duty to relay the story of the individuals, the lives lost, and to report on the quiet bravery of the civilians. This is evident during a scene that is arguably the most moving of the film, in which a mass grave is discovered and a group of grieving women burst into a song of prayer. In his commitment to maintain the element of realism and authenticity, Heineman used non-actors throughout who had lost loved ones in similar circumstances, with this unscripted emotional expression of grief via song making the moment all the more impactful.

Jamie Dornan delivers a beautifully nuanced and warm depiction of soldier-turned-freelance photographer Paul Conroy. Dornan as Conroy provides the audience’s eyes into Colvin’s world – far more aware of his mortality and unafraid to offer some harsh truths about her addictive personality, yet loyal and full of respect for his partner. But this is Rosamund Pike’s film. Flawless in her portrayal of the conflicted Colvin, she is not only able to convey Marie’s fearlessness and headstrong nature, but also offer a sympathetic insight into her insecurities and pain, as she is haunted by nightmares and hallucinations and struggles with PTSD. For those who thought her turn as the sociopathic Amy Dunne in Gone Girl showed her at the peak of her talents, her transformative performance here is a career best.

A Private War delivers a moving tribute not only to Colvin, but to the important work of journalists who risk their lives to give others a voice. A dedication that tragically led to Colvin’s death. To paraphrase her own words – “she sees it, so we don’t have to”.

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