A Private War
Starring Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander , Stanley Tucci
Documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman successfully navigates the transition to feature films with A Private War. Like embedded war laden journalism films before it, A Private War follows the extremist (not extreme) style dedication of women who put duty and self-assigned purpose over everything else, including their own lives. Veronica Guerin comes to mind, although her war was with the criminal drug industry. Juliette Binoche’s fictional portrayal in 1000 Times Goodnight is more closely aligned with the rebellious spirit of Marie Colvin. This film relies almost entirely on the strong willed performance of Oscar nominated Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Hostiles) who is the female Daniel Day Lewis when you go searching for artists who give their soul to a performance. Pike’s run of political themed indie flicks haven’t done her any favors of late, but A Private War is far more focused and boasts one of her best performances.
“Fear comes later when it’s all over,” war journalist Marie Colvin said near the end of her life. Her career began in 1986, but intensified along side the wars she covered in the Middle East. Multiple times she was named the British Foreign Correspondent of the Year, but behind her back, even to her face, her reckless disregard for her own safety was questioned. “Make your suffering part of the record,” she said. Losing an eye covering an unreported war in Shri Lanka, only pushed her deeper into the addiction to make the world aware of what was happening. Colvin would always go towards the explosions instead of away from them. She became fearless in the field, but a complete wreck back home once the ink dried. An alcoholic, workaholic, no writer could match her intensity and few people could stand to be around her as she suffered immensely from PTSD.
Pike is wholly immersed into the role mentally and physically.
Marie Colvin believed that the world we live in, what’s being written today, is the rough draft of history. Pike is wholly immersed into the role mentally and physically. Heineman blurs the lines between reality and filmmaking in a way that feels authentic and anything but phony. His narrative struggles a bit with repetition, because to be true to this courageous women, she didn’t do much but risk her life on a day to day basis, surrounded by the horrors of war in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Both Pike and Heineman help the audience to understand her need to do this. We see how her world affected others, the media, and the sacrifice it took.
As we come to the end of the year, the potential awards contenders are all being unveiled, Pike supplants herself as one of the most dedicated and impressive of the pack. I would put her only behind Toni Collette (Hereditary) and Yalitza Aparicio (Roma). What runs against Pike’s chances of landing in the top 5 of the best actress category, is the lack of studio support like A Star is Born, the “overdue” narrative that’s boosting Glenn Close and a film that’s struggling to find an audience in a crowded marketplace. It doesn’t help that A Private War is a difficult film to sit through, painting a grim reality without wading into politics. Films about women journalists risking their lives to cover a story are rarely understood or appreciated by the public who find it difficult to understand the sense of duty that Marie felt. A Private War does it’s best to explain that, and hopefully leaves the viewer with better understanding.
Rosamund Pike commands the screen in one of the best performances of the year.