Biopic about war correspondent Marie Colvin lacks soul

Film Review | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

A Private War
Broadway Theatre

Opens Sat. 9
2.5 out of 5

Few career paths are more romanticized than the war correspondent. Following the Ernest Hemingway model, the horrors of combat toughen the journalist physically, mentally, and even spirituality — inspiring quality writing. In real life, journalists who choose this line of work often find themselves emotionally compromised and enduring PTSD.

American journalist Marie Colvin went through all that and more (she lost an eye while covering the Sri Lankan civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2001, and her life in Syria in 2012). Yet she drew strength from the positive impact she sometimes had on humanitarian disasters through her reporting.

It’s clear Colvin deserves a biopic, but this first dramatic feature by documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land, City of Ghosts) feels too by-the-numbers to do her justice. He goes through the journalist’s greatest hits chronologically, without any sense of consistency or character evolution.

As depicted in A Private War, Colvin (Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl) doesn’t hesitate to put herself at risk for the sake of the story (“embedded” is for chickens, is her philosophy). Her brain, though, doesn’t have an “off” mode, meaning she self-medicates and has no hope of maintaining a long-term relationship.

Colvin’s inability to relate to others in a healthy fashion contrasts with her enormous empathy for victims of civil wars in Sri Lanka, Libya and Syria. Her willingness to defy the powers that be and report from conflict areas angered Middle Eastern despots, none more than Bashar Al-Assad. The Syrian tyrant is believed to have targeted Colvin, who at the time of her death was covering the brutal bombardment of the rebel city of Homs.

Pike goes for broke in her portrayal of Colvin and nearly saves the movie. In fact, the entire cast is stronger than the material, from Jamie Dornan as Colvin’s photographer Paul Conroy to Stanley Tucci as her last partner.

While not particularly adept at staging drama, Heineman’s background as a documentarian comes in handy when recreating war zones. The film comes alive at these moments in ways that’s hard to imagine during quieter scenes. Then again, that’s probably how Colvin felt on a regular basis.