A Private War has been described as an American biographical drama film though director Matthew Heineman has made it clear that he did not intend the film to be a run-of-the-mill biography. This is obvious once the film starts kicking into gear as it becomes clear exactly where the film is heading. Heineman praises his subject, British journalist, Marie Colvin (an admirable performance by Rosamund Pike despite the film’s flaws) to no end – a martyr for the course of war journalism. The film is based on the 2012 article “Marie Colvin’s Private War” in Vanity Fair by Marie Brenner and written for the film by Arash Amel.
Heineman’s film begins with Marie Colvin in a war zone doing her job covering the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. When the film whisks Colman from one war zone to another, ending in HOMS in Syria, it is clear that the film is not really interested in telling the stories of the casualties of war – nor of the sufferings of the people; nor of the lies told by Governments nor of the fact that world needs to be told of what is going on and to be aware (as Colvin, herself says her goal in journalism is). It is to tell of the heroism of one Marie Colvin – but without the warts at all.
At the film’s worst, Colvin is seen in the battlefield with perfect hair with nicely groomed curls down her sides. The fact must have been pretty obvious as most of her other war scenes has her hair tied in a bundle.
The film contains no shortage of subtleties. When Colvin receives the Foreign Correspondent of the year Award, the film quickly moves away from the scene and omits her acceptance speech. Yes, the audience gets the point the she is not in the business for the fame. A PRIVATE WAR is all abut Colvin’s conviction in telling stories in dangerous scenarios. The other fact is her Sunday Times boss, Sean Ryan played by Tom Hollander is always seen in a suit and tie, another indication that the director needs to keep reminding the audience that Colvin is doing a dangerous job in the field while he is having it ‘cushy nice’ in the office. “I want to tell their stories,” Colvin says at one point in the film. Heineman isn’t interested in telling ‘their’ stories at all but only her story. So unsure that his audience will not get the film’s point, the point has to be said out loud to Colvin in the dialogue: “If you lose your conviction, what hope do we have?”
The best film about journalism, and one that demands to be seen is Phillip Noyce’s NEWSFRONT, also arguably one of the best Australian films ever made. Bill Hunter plays a newsreel man in the 60’s in a film that exhorts its heroes in the news without resorting to glamorization and overblown set pieces. The one shot in NEWSFRONT of a drowned cameraman in a flood he was covering is enough to say it all. A PRIVATE WAR, in contrast drums the fact into the audience to no end. Even Colvin’s PTSD (Post Trauma Stress Disorder) is downplayed. With the scene of her having a bath together with her wealthy lover played by Stanley Tucci, the film has reached its ridiculous limit.
But there is a reward in staying for the closing credits. Annie Lennox delvers a beautiful rendition of the song “Requiem for a PrivateWar”.