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D: Matthew Heineman / 110m

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Faye Marsay, Stanley Tucci, Greg Wise, Corey Johnson, Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Raad Rawi

Marie Colvin (Pike) is a journalist and war correspondent working for the Sunday Times. She goes where most other journalists wouldn’t even think of going, but her work is highly personal and highly praised. However, in 2001, while in Sri Lanka, her return journey from a meeting with the Tamil Tigers is ambushed and Marie is wounded in the attack, losing the sight in her left eye. Back home she adopts an eye patch, and after a period of recovery, throws herself back into the fray by visiting Afghanistan and Iraq, and despite suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. She also meets freelance photographer Paul Conroy (Dornan), and they form a dedicated partnership, as they document the effects war has on the people of these countries, and the atrocities they have had to endure. But continued exposure to civil wars and the suffering of others has made Marie erratic and unpredictable, and her editor, Sean Ryan (Hollander), is concerned about her continuing to travel to war zones. But then, in 2012, comes news of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and what’s happening in the city of Homs, and Marie determines to see for herself how bad it is…

Adapted from the article Marie Colvin’s Private War by Marie Brenner, which was published in Vanity Fair in 2012, A Private War begins (and ends) with a quote from Colvin: “You’re never going to get to where you’re going if you acknowledge fear.” It’s an appropriate message, as the movie shows just how fearless Colvin was when she was in the middle of a war zone, or if her life were in immediate danger. Her fierce determination and selfless behaviour allowed no time to be afraid; that was for when she was at home, and dealing with the nightmarish images that she’d seen over the years, and which continued to haunt her. At one point, Conroy states what may well have been the truth: that Colvin was addicted to her work, and that being waaaay past the front line in any given conflict was what she lived for. Brave or foolish, the movie doesn’t judge. Instead, Arash Amel’s psychologically complex screenplay, and Matthew Heineman’s tightly controlled direction highlight the ambiguity of emotion that prompts someone to only truly feel alive when they’re in the midst of death. And the ways in which Colvin rejects any concern for her safety shows just how addicted she became.

To show all this, the movie doesn’t attempt to lionise its heroine, or sugar coat the fact that Colvin could be abrasive and demanding. She also had a drink problem, but Amel’s script acknowledges this and then moves on; it doesn’t define her, her passion for the truth of an issue does. All of this is brought out by an incredible career-best performance from Pike. Tough, vulnerable, overwhelmed, arrogant, devastated, removed, passionate – Pike is all these things and more as Colvin, and she shows an understanding of the journalist’s mindset that adds an emotional resonance to the material. When Colvin’s story reaches Homs, the movie manages to be both hopeful and triumphant even though the outcome is inevitable, and Pike plays the part as if Colvin is invincible. This makes the ending all the more heart-rending, but in keeping with the serious tone adopted throughout, any melodrama is avoided, and Heineman’s matter-of-fact approach to the material wins out. Given the intensity and power of Pike’s performance, the rest of the cast don’t fare quite as well, and secondary characters such as Colvin’s best friend, Rita (Amuka-Bird), and late arrival lover, Tony (Tucci), pop up now and then to little effect, while some of the London-based scenes border on perfunctory, but otherwise this is a gripping exploration of one woman’s need to make a difference when no one else could – or would.

Rating: 8/10 – an intelligent, fascinating movie about an altogether different form of addiction, A Private War is sobering and thoughtful, and not afraid to reflect the horrors we inflict on each other in the name of religion or ethnicity or just plain hatred; visceral and uncomfortable in places, and as determined not to apologise for this as Colvin would have been, the movie acts as a reminder that heroism comes in many different forms.