A Private War dives right into two warzones. One is more literal, as we meet real-life journalist Marie Colvin chasing down leads in the Sri Lankan rainforest, the other raging within her psyche. Each is well portrayed on screen but both feel familiar in this made-for-TV biopic. Colvin is a fascinating woman who deserves her story told, but A Private War doesn’t leave the comfort zone of director Matthew Heineman.
A biopic is only as good as its lead, and thankfully Rosamund Pike brings new meaning to the word “grizzled” in her stirring performance. Pike is most at home in the shoes of people at the end of their rope, and A Private War is no exception; Colvin is laid bare in this frank and fierce retelling. Steely resolve, juddering vulnerability – these are Pike’s bread and butter, and she succeeds despite high expectations. Unfortunately the script itself doesn’t do Pike any favours. A lot of her inner torment is told to the audience via monologue and hallucinatory montages. A Private War needs more show and less tell.
This is Matthew Heineman’s first fictionalised film after a run of breathtaking documentaries including the excellent City of Ghosts. Unfortunately Heineman leans into his roots for A Private War and this cuts against any deeper exploration of Colvin’s drive. A Private War is at odds between the personal and the political; the film wraps up with a stirring call to action reflective of Colvin and Heineman, but there’s no clear throughline on Colvin herself.
A Private War certainly delivers on the “war” front; a countdown motif keeps the film ticking along and Heineman pulls no punches as we travel with Colvin to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. When it comes to the ‘private’ however, nothing quite land.
CAST: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Faye Marsay
DIRECTOR: Matthew Heineman
WRITERS: Arash Amel (screenplay), Marie Brenner (Vanity Fair article, ‘Marie Colvin’s Private War’)
SYNOPSIS: One of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time, Marie Colvin is an utterly fearless and rebellious spirit, driven to the frontline of conflicts across the globe to give voice to the voiceless.