Following the story of war correspondent Marie Colvin, “A Private War” masterfully pushes viewers to not only consider the cost of war but also its harrowing effect on individuals. As Marie Colvin and British photographer and filmmaker Paul Conroy, Rosamund Pike and Jamie Dornan deliver heart-wrenching performances, rising to the challenge of depicting Colvin’s journey into disaster zones often devoid of little humanity. Known for her roles as the quiet Jane Bennett in Joe Wright’s adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” and Amy in the psychological thriller “Gone Girl,” Pike is a brilliant actress. Her full abilities shine through in “A Private War,” where she takes on the role of Marie Colvin with sheer force and bravado. With her perfect Long Island drawl or the constant flick of a cigarette, attention to detail drives her portrayal. From one of the opening scenes in Sri Lanka, director Matthew Heineman clearly communicates that Colvin was ruthlessly committed to her job as war correspondent for the BBC until her death in 2012 through a painfully realistic portrayal. Pike commented in an interview, “[Marie] had a presence and would stop people in their tracks.” Pike makes this quality shine in her portrayal of Marie throughout the film. Yet despite Colvin being in her element after her other projects at glamorous parties and string of love affairs, Pike also shows a side to Colvin that is tormented by what you might call “real life.” Steering away from battle scenes reminiscent of action films, cinematographer Robert Richardson’s style depicts the brutality of war zones while emphasizing the importance of individuals’ lives in these places. Using CGI-imposed images on drone footage of real buildings in Jordan, Richardson was able to create an incredibly realistic landscape of Homs in particular. The slightly overexposed and long shots of deserts provide moments of quietude among the likes of grenade explosions and shootings experience by Colvin with each journey. Colvin’s story is told through a timeline, which shows how each place and the people she encountered shaped her stories. Attention to detail is at the center of Heineman’s direction who used Colvin’s detailed articles for guidance and the likes of identical mattresses and blankets from existing images were used. The most important detail, however, is the focus on named people in each place of conflict. They serve as a constant reminder of Colvin’s goal to tell the story of particular families, young men and women, and children. One of the film’s biggest strengths is also the casting of supporting actors throughout the film. From soldiers of the Free Syrian Army in underground tunnels to Iraqi nationals at the unearthing of a mass grave, the film excels in retelling rather than dramatizing Colvin’s story. As Pike noted in an interview, as “bodies and remains started to be unearthed, the reaction in our background cast, who I think knew what they were doing but didn’t realise they would be emotionally transported in the way that they were.” Drawing back to Colvin’s life in London, Greg Wise and Stanley Tucci fill the roles of Tony Shaw and Professor David Irens, respectively who are inspired by Pike’s ex-husband and lover. Tension is rife in both relationships, but Pike succeeds in using these moments to show a certain surprising tenderness and fragility to Colvin’s character. The significance of Homs, Syria as Colvin’s last location before she is killed by Syrian forces is revealed in the final moments of the film. Painful to watch but reinforcing her determination to give a voice to the voiceless, the ending scene of “A Private War” is almost a celebration of Colvin’s bravery. Above all, Heineman triumphs in exploring the intricacy and chaos of conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War or the Tamil Tigers’ guerrilla war in Sri Lanka. Even as an outsider, Colvin was able to show these conflicts to the world in a way that made readers aware of the different perspective she offered, one that shone a light on the humanity she found in these places. With impressive performances and moving cinematography, “A Private War” does justice to its legendary inspiration while pushing its audience to contemplate the realities of war through its focus on the individuals intimately affected.
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