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Movie Review: “A Private War”

Many reporters ask embarrassing questions of political figures. Fewer take the risk of going into major war zones to give readers a first-hand look at what’s really going on.

Marie Colvin was in a subset of the latter category. This rock-star war correspondent for London’s Sunday Times made it her business to don a flak jacket and go into active war zones in order to do just that, and perhaps more importantly, to record the effects of war on the people.     

Documentarian Matthew Heineman (the Oscar-nominated “Cartel Land” and Emmy-nominated “City of Ghosts”) gives us a profile of Colvin in his first narrative film, “A Private War.”

Born in New York and educated at Yale, Colvin wrote for The Yale Daily News, where she decided to become a journalist. She worked for UPI in the U.S.; moved to London’s Sunday Times in 1985, and was their Foreign Affairs correspondent from 1986 until she died in Homs from an improvised explosive device in 2012, shortly after speaking to Anderson Cooper of CNN about the situation in that city.

Rosamund Pike plays Colvin, who lost her left eye to shrapnel in Sri Lanka in 2001. That might have stopped others, but not Colvin. She wore a distinctive black “pirate” eye patch and continued reporting.

She met free-lance photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) on the Iraqi border in 2003 (on the way to Fallujah) and took him on as her photographer. Conroy later described her as “addicted to war,” a description she didn’t dispute. She did wonder more than once whether what she was doing was worth it, asking “In covering war, do we really make a difference?”

But, as Conroy said, she couldn’t stay away. She put it this way: “I hate being in a war zone, but I also feel compelled to see it for myself.”

In “A Private War,” you’ll see her walking through bombing rubble, talking to Muammar Gaddafi and – more important to her – talking to the people who lived through the violence. 

When I walked out of “A Private War,” my first question was “How did they film this?” The answer is that they went to another former war zone: Jordan, which unfortunately still has the scars and wreckage of war. And they used local people, non-actors, which is why those interview scenes seem so real.

“A Private War” is not a pretty picture, but we need to remember those who are brave enough to say, as Colvin did, that “My job is to bear witness.”

Genre: Biography/Drama/War

MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent images, language throughout, and brief sexuality/nudity

Runtime: 110 minutes

Find out where "A Private War" is showing by clicking HERE.