We have a tendency to take for granted the images we see on our televisions screens, especially from the areas of trouble around the world. The fact that people go in there to record and report on the devastation that comes from armed conflict is almost secondary to the actual stories being told. A Private War, the biography of Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin focuses on just how reporting these horrors affects someone.
The film takes us on a journey through the last thirteen years of her life. She is in Sri Lanka covering the Tamil Tigers when she is caught in a raid, is injured and uses the use of her left eye. When recovered she is back on the front line covering Iraq, Libya and eventually Syria. Her time in war zones has a dramatic effect on her psyche and she unravels more than once.
The film works due to the central performance from Rosalind Pike. Her portrayal of the US born reporter is a screen grabbing turn. She was such a large presence in any room and her mannerisms and forthright style are captured accurately. The proof of this can be seen in the closing credits where a brief interview with the real Marie conveys just how close that Rosamund Pike got to her. She has taken on the role to the extent that she has become the character. In interviews, she has described the process of finding the character through mimicking her mannerisms such as her hand gestures and altering how she looks at things with only one good eye in use.
Now, this could have been no more than an impersonation of Colvin and that would have worked just fine. Rosamund Pike takes it to another level by conveying what she was all about. She was a force of nature and to most was seen as being unaffected by the horrors of war that surrounded her. What we see is someone who wants to share a story. She realises the lengths she has to go in order to find it and the tole it takes in terms of damage to the spirit. Colvin comes across as being a very real human being.
It is in her relationship with the photographer Paul Conroy that forms the backbone of the film. She was notorious for being sometimes difficult to work with and had been through a number of photographers before they met. They just seemed to click as Conroy acts as a counter balance to the big personality of Colvin but is just as dedicated to getting the story out to the world. As in life, the pairing of Rosamund Pike and Jamie Dornan works very well. He has a much smaller screen presence here owing to the dynamic between the pair and wisely never tries to go big with his role.
What the film shows is the human cost of doing this, both in terms of the immediate danger of death and the long term consequences. Over the course of the thirteen year span of the film, we spend a good deal of time alone with Colvin and witness the mental deterioration that comes with seeing what she sees. She has coping mechanisms and a large, imposing personality to hide behind but over time they become less and less effective. The way she breaks down is not easy to watch as the performance by Rosamund Pike hold nothing back.