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A Private War Movie Review

A Private War (2018) movie poster A Private War

Theatrical Release: November 2, 2018 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Matthew Heineman / Writers: Marie Brenner (Vanity Fair article "Marie Colvin's Private War"); Arash Amel (screenplay)

Cast: Rosamund Pike (Marie Colvin), Jamie Dornan (Paul Conroy), Tom Hollander (Sean Ryan), Stanley Tucci (Tony Shaw), Faye Marsay (Kate Richardson), Greg Wise (Professor David Irens), Corey Johnson (Norm Coburn), Nikki Amuka-Bird (Rita Williams), Alexandra Moen (Zoe), Fady Elsayed (Mourad), Raad Rawi (Gaddafi)

 

It was easy to view Gone Girl's Amy Dunne as the role of a lifetime for Rosamund Pike. Still, you couldn't have foreseen Pike pulling the professional equivalent
of Dunne's disappearance after that performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, which she should have won. In the four years since that riveting David Fincher/Gillian Flynn mystery, Pike has racked up plenty of credits but not commanded the screen and not for a wide, appreciative audience. Pike makes a return of sorts in A Private War, delivering one of the year's strongest performances, but the movie that houses it demands some effort and isn't really strong enough to warrant it.

Private casts Pike as Marie Colvin, a longtime war correspondent from New York. Colvin's personal life is a bit in shambles, but her devotion to her calling is never in doubt. In Sri Lanka to report on a dispute she had to beg to cover, Colvin takes shrapnel in her left eye from an army RPG. Instead of driving her to safer journalism, the incident leaves her wearing an eyepatch that she comes to embrace.

Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) and Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) scout the arid landscape while hoping to unearth a mass gravesite in "A Private War."

A forthright communicator, smoker, and heavy drinker, Colvin seemingly always has to voice her demands to her higher-up, the foreign editor of Britain's The Sunday Times (Tom Hollander) who is enamored with her work but weary of the risks, with, the eyepatch reminds us, good reason.

On one of her dangerous missions in the Middle East, Marie teams up with Paul Conroy (a thankless Jamie Dornan), a photographer she tolerates and collaborates with for years to come. If you assume Dornan's casting means business and pleasure will mix, you're wrong. There is a love interest who turns up later in the affluent, boozy party-thrower Tony Shaw (Stanley Tucci). But that thread is as short and narrow as any other that arises in this unsatisfyingly episodic endeavor.

Based on the real life of Colvin, the movie keeps identifying years in relation to a 2012 incident in Syria. You may not know what is to come, but you can deduce it's not just another award to add to Colvin's collection.

Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) proudly rocks her eyepatch at the British Press Awards ceremony honoring her.

The closing scene's interview footage of the real Colvin demonstrates just how accurately Pike has transformed her voice and manner to pay tribute to this journalist you may well not have known coming in. You only wish that this film had more than just Pike's admirable effort to offer.

Director Matthew Heineman comes from the world of documentaries, with credits that include the Oscar-nominated Cartel Land (2015) and the Emmy-nominated City of Ghosts (2017).
While that background convinces you he's getting the facts right here, it doesn't convince you he knows how to present this narrative in a compelling way and the screenplay by Arash Amel (the troubled biopic Grace of Monaco that ended up premiering on Lifetime instead of theaters) is not much help to him.

Heineman, Pike, and the rest of the cast and crew have succeeded at immersing us in Colvin's world and telling her story. That story just doesn't seem especially well suited to a narrative feature film.

While critics have been kind, any hopes for Pike returning to the Best Actress category requires A Private War finding an audience. Young, mostly untested distributor Aviron Pictures is in the process of trying to do that, expanding the movie which bowed in four theaters last weekend to forty today. But it seems likely to be challenged in that way much like Heineman's documentaries have been.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Can You Ever Forgive Me? Bohemian Rhapsody First Man The Old Man & the Gun Boy Erased Suspiria
Rosamund Pike: Gone Girl An Education The World's End Surrogates The Big Year Made in Dagenham
Jamie Dornan: The Fall: Series 1 The 9th Life of Louis Drax Once Upon a Time: Season 1 | Tom Hollander: The Invisible Woman The Soloist
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Reviewed November 9, 2018.



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