A Private War

Early on in this movie, I figured it would be hard for me to truly root for this journalist. Anybody that is going into dangerous war zones knows what they’re doing and they’re choosing to do it. As the movie goes on, watching her self-destructive nature (smoking, drinking, various men, dangerous decisions on the field)…I wondered if the filmmakers were just trying to show a reporter — warts and all, or trying to lionize her.

Often times on screen, when a reporter is portrayed as a “hero” it’s for exposing the truth. They’re not usually putting their life on the line, just their job.

This movie feels like something I’ve seen before (maybe a bit of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and 1,000 Times Good Night). Now, I hadn’t heard about Marie Colvin before, and this is based on a Vanity Fair article on her. A straight biopic would’ve been of more interest to me than showing her final 10 years as a war reporter, where we see her lose an eye early on [note to self: during a serious scene in a movie where someone loses an eye, it’s probably best not to try and make the wife laugh by saying, “I bet Pete Davidson’s going to make fun of her, too.”]

Rosamund Pike plays the award winning journalist for the The Sunday Times in London, and she’s solid in the role (reminding me of Kathleen Turner mixed with some Annette Bening).

There are commentaries on war and reporting in this that feel rather simplistic. There are also scenes trying to show what a bad-ass she is, and they just don’t work. An example of that would be her hooking up with a guy, taking a swig of booze, having sex, leaning over to type her story, back to the sex, another swig of booze, lighting a cigarette, typing a few other lines, back to bed…it was a weird montage. I much preferred her sitting on the couch trying to finish a story, with the photographer telling her he’s going to bed…or her frustratingly trying to recover a lost file.

The flashback scenes to war, showing her PTSD, didn’t quite work, either. We see her walking into her house, but she’s picturing it as a blown up structure she was in on the field.

Knowing that she has PTSD, and later in the movie realizing she doesn’t just enjoy drinking but is probably an alcoholic, make it harder to care about what’s happening in the story. Are they showing her editor as a piece of garbage that doesn’t care about her health, merely the next headline? Or…does he care about her health, but she’s so determined to go that nothing he says will stop her anyway? I’m not really sure, and I stopped caring.

Some of the scenes that are intense, you’ve also seen in so many other movies. An example would be when she grabs a new freelance photographer (Jamie Dornan), and it looks like they’re not going to get past a checkpoint, and might end up being shot by the rebels there. She claims she’s a doctor, handing them her plastic gym membership as proof.

After awhile, things started to get repetitive. She’d be in London, discussing a story with an editor (or an intern praising her work). Then she’s off to Fallujah. She gets home and goes drinking at a party, and then she’s off to another war. She’ll come home for an awards ceremony, hook up with her ex-husband, have a fight with her ex-husband…off to another war, with another countdown to her dangerous trip to Homs. I kept getting tired of it all and just wanted to jump to the Homs scene. It’s the same way I felt in First Man when we’d have a boring 15 minutes, followed by the year 1966. Another 15 minutes, followed by the year 1967. You just keep waiting for the “1969” to show up on screen so we can move things along.

It’s also hard for me to like a character that…well, I’m not so clear on her motives for these reports, and I don’t like her bringing other people (photographers, translators) into situations that might kill them.

Colvin was heroic. She was tragic. She was probably a lot more interesting than this movie showed.

Also starring Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander, and Jeremie Laheunte.

2 stars out of 5.