A Private War made public by a brave reporter

A Biopic
Written by Arash Amel, from a Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner
Directed by Matthew Heineman

This is the sort of film that makes me proud to be a journalist. On the other hand, it also makes me feel ashamed that I never, in the course of my profession, did anything really important or dangerous.

Marie Colvin did all those things, over and over again. She ran towards the war zones, interviewed everyone she could, and showed man’s inhumanity to man to the world. It ruined her private life. It lost her an eye. Eventually, it killed her.

A Private War examines, through the fiction of narrative cinema, what she did and, more interestingly, what it did to her. She married and divorced the same man twice. She smoked heavily and drowned herself in booze every chance she got. She slept around and suffered from PTSD. One of first things we see her do in the movie is have sex with her ex-husband.

Was she an adrenalin junkie – always searching for that danger fix? It seems plausible. But if she was, she had a great excuse. She opened many people’s eyes, showing the unspeakable violence and cruelty found on battle fields and in dictator-controlled countries.

I have no idea how close the film matches her work or life. I’m not reviewing a documentary, but a work of fiction based on actual events.

A Private War feels fragmented, because, according to the film, Colvin’s life was fragmentated. She spent her adult life jumping to Sri Lanka (where she lost her left eye), to Iraq, Libya, and several other dangerous spots, but always coming back to her home base in London, where she worked for the Sunday Times. (Born and raised American, she made her home in England.) She wasn’t just fragmented geographically; the horrors she saw and survived left her on edge.

To provide at least the sense of structure needed for a narrative movie, the film tells us, every so often, that we’re x numbers of years before Hom, Siryah, where she would die in action soon after a major CNN interview.

Pike gives an incredible, Oscar-worthy performance as Colvin. Wearing an eyepatch through most of the film, she must go through an emotional hell that most people in peaceful countries never experience. She burns so brightly in the role that it’s easy to overlook any of the other actors, including Stanley Tucci as her editor and sometimes lover.

If you know the name of director Matthew Heineman at all, you’ll remember him as a documentarian. This is his first narrative feature. Let’s hope it’s not his last.

A Private War opens Friday.