Director: Matthew Heineman
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, Stanley Tucci
Rating: 4.5 stars
Well into the second half of A Private War, Marie Colvin asks, “In covering war, can we really make a difference?” For a hard-as-nails no-nonsense foreign correspondent, who has single-mindedly pursued stories inside some of the world’s famous war zones for more than a couple of decades, this is not just a philosophical question. It is a reality check of the worth of her life and career. She is a two-time winner of the British Foreign Correspondent of the Year award, so it isn’t really recognition that she craves or uses as a measuring stick.
To her, why she covers the war is as important as how she covers it. When the film opens with her in the Tamil Tigers camp, the commander asks her to write about the people suffering at the hands of the Sri Lankan soldiers. She gives a half-nod, then proceeds to point out that a major part of that suffering is because of corruption within their own ranks. But as years pass by, and she sees systemic corruption across countries, governments and rebels, you can see her perspective and her moral compass slowly, but surely, shifting to the vagaries of human suffering, the innocents, who are always the victims of all wars.
As Marie Colvin, Rosamund Pike gives a career-defining performance (sorry, Gone Girl!) that shows you a woman who is afraid to not just grow old but also die young. She wears an eye patch like a pirate, sails the perilous seas of war, going where no man (or woman) dares to go, and comes back with treasured stories. But the cost rises with each assignment, with her fighting a war in her mind every time she comes back. It is physically and emotionally taxing and a “quarter vat of vodka doesn’t always solve the problem.”
She wants an emotional substitute, but love, sex, wine, and even the perennial cigarette does not satiate her as much as the stories she wants to tell, the stories she is compelled to tell. In a seminal scene, just when she is about to give it all up, she tells her editor Sean Ryan (a stellar Tom Hollander), “I go to these places so that you don’t have to. I want to ensure that the suffering is part of the record,” to which Tom replies that no one in their right mind would do what she does and “If you lose your conviction, what hope do the rest of us have?”
Marie Colvin felt that “somewhere there is a war and nobody knows it’s happening” and it made her crazy. With the aid of three-time Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Richardson, who is the silent hero of the film (he captures the war zones of Sri Lanka, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria in great detail that visually tell a story by themselves), Matthew Heineman has made Marie Colvin’s private war, public.