A Private War

A Private War

2018, R, 106 min. Directed by Matthew Heineman. Starring Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Nikki Amuka-Bird.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Nov. 9, 2018

Take the director of fearless documentaries like Cartel Land and City of Ghosts (Heineman) and let him make his feature debut with the real-life story of a legendary war correspondent. The math makes sense, doesn't it? And there are even times when both the subject and aesthetics of A Private War seem to align accordingly; unfortunately, the film is incapable of sustaining this poignancy for any extended period of time.

For decades, The Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin (Pike) was the face of war correspondents around the globe. Embedded in some of the most violent parts of the world, Colvin worked tirelessly to transform the idea of war – itself an enormous and horrible concept with little room for empathy – into a series of personalized anecdotes people could understand. A Private War follows Colvin in the decade prior to her death, introducing us to the people who supported her and shining a light on the unique alliances and friendships that form between journalists who run toward, not away from, the worst acts of violence.

It should be clear by now that Pike is not afraid to make big choices onscreen. Here she finds a personality much to her liking. Colvin is a steely gaze hidden behind a cloud of cigarette smoke; Pike is given her fair share of dramatic moments in the film, but these feel like a necessary outlet for her character, a continuous release of pressure that keeps the machine itself from falling apart. Pike would have benefited from more confident character-building – the film initially frames her as someone caught between the demands of a career and the desire for family – but the film's problems are despite her performance, not because of them.

Where A Private War struggles is with its own message. The film wants to shine a light on political apathy – an apathy that requires journalists like Colvin to run headfirst into danger to drum up public interest – but that message is buried beneath layers of dramatized self-destruction. The "who" and the "where" matter less to Heineman’s film than its suggestion that Colvin is deeply affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s an interesting message in its own right – and one the movie tackles at some length – but it’s also one that relegates the refugee populations she worked with to the sidelines of her narrative. Even in the film’s big finale, the Syrian refugees Colvin moves amongst are just a backdrop for her personal tragedy. When it mattered most, A Private War revealed itself to be just another middling biopic.

Showtimes

Arbor Cinema @ Great Hills

9828 Great Hills Trail, 512/231-9742

Discounts daily before 6pm.

Wed., Nov. 21

CC/DVS 1:00, 3:40, 6:50, 9:30

Thu., Nov. 22

CC/DVS 1:00, 3:40, 6:50, 9:30

Fri., Nov. 23

CC/DVS 1:00, 3:40, 6:50, 9:30

Sat., Nov. 24

CC/DVS 1:00, 3:40, 6:50, 9:30

Sun., Nov. 25

CC/DVS 1:00, 3:40, 6:50, 9:30

Mon., Nov. 26

CC/DVS 1:00, 3:40, 6:50, 9:30

Tue., Nov. 27

CC/DVS 1:00, 3:40, 6:50, 9:30

Metropolitan

901 Little Texas, 512/447-0101

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Wed., Nov. 21

CC/DVS 11:05

Thu., Nov. 22

CC/DVS 11:05

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Matthew Heineman Films
City of Ghosts
Battling ISIS with journalism

Marc Savlov, July 28, 2017

Cartel Land
Vigilante groups on both sides of the border fight the Mexican cartels in this harrowing doc

Marjorie Baumgarten, July 10, 2015

More by Matthew Monagle
Instant Family
Adoption comedy is rocky but charming

Nov. 16, 2018

Prospect
Lo-fi sci-fi drama is driven by performances and ingenuity

Nov. 9, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

A Private War, Matthew Heineman, Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Nikki Amuka-Bird

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle