It takes a special kind of conviction to become a War Correspondent. As per the data gathered by the Committee to Protect Journalists, no less than 74 journalists lost their lives in 2012 alone, while on the field reporting back to their respective media agencies. Imagine watching the abject devastation on a town somewhere in the middle east on TV, watching whole neighborhoods being decimated by intermittent mortar shelling, and watching the mounds of human bodies stacking up on the streets – and still deciding to go out there just so you can know the stories of the people whose lives have been torn apart by political ideologies. If you think that War Correspondents are paid significant compensation for them to justify taking such risks, you’re wrong. News agencies find it very costly to keep full-time reporters on the ground in war-affected regions. So they hire freelancers who are willing to go out there at much lesser pay, and little or no benefits. Needless to say, this is a thankless job that they indulge themselves in, and the only motivation that they have is that their stories are heard.
Adapted from Vanity Fair article called “Marie Colvin’s Private War” by arie Brenner, and Directed by Matthew Heineman, A Private War is a biopic based on celebrated war correspondent Marie Colvin who worked as a Foreign Affairs Correspondent for the British paper The Sunday Times since 1985. During her illustrious career, Colvin covered some of the most dangerous conflicts in the 21st century including the Syria War in 2012 where she lost her life. Colvin was a passionate reporter who believed that it was the responsibility of the journalism fraternity to let the world know about the suffering of people in war-ravaged nations. More often than not, news agencies got entangled in the political intricacies of who did what and what caused what, that they forgot about the people who were trapped in between the fighting sides. As she very astutely observed – “War is not so terrible for governments, for they are not wounded or killed like people.”
Despite being fiercely motivated, Colvin was still a human, and every time she covered a war, she was affected by it. Heineman brings this lesser-known aspect of investigative journalists to the fore, by focussing on how difficult it is for them to return back to normalcy after the traumatic experiences they have. Colvin herself suffered from anxiety, panic attacks, and a full-blown Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although PTSD is usually attributed to soldiers who have just returned from war, it can and does manifest itself within war correspondents who live through the nightmares in the very same conditions as soldiers do. And if they are lucky to survive one war, they get assigned to more wars, experienced the worst of humanity around the world.
Rosamund Pike’s portrayal of Colvin is as authentic as it can get. Pike becomes a reporter who has had an active social life in London and has to leave that all behind to get into war-zones. She keeps seeing a dead girl on her bed anywhere she goes, not to mention the ghost towns she often has to live in. Alcohol becomes her only solace as she grapples with her courage to do the job that she has committed herself to do. “I hate being in a war-zone”, she says, “but I am compelled to see it for myself.” With this performance, Pike can safely be called an Oscar contender for the Best Actor Female category in the upcoming Oscars 2019. Jamie Dornan also gives a compelling performance as Colvin’s photographer Paul Conroy.
In a first for him, Heineman makes his first move into film narrative after having worked exclusively as a documentary film-maker. His 2017 documentary film City of Ghosts followed a group of activists called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, who share their life as their hometown is taken over by ISIS in 2014. Heineman brings the same gritty treatment to his first big-screen adaptation with Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson known for his work in JFK, The Aviator and Hugo. The film is replete with haunting images of the atrocities that are often left largely unreported. In one riveting scene, we watch Kurdish widows watch patiently for Colvin’s helpers uncover a potential mass-grave. They sit by the gaping crater in the ground waiting to identify remains of their family members who had gone missing for years. Heineman’s authentic portrayal of war-ravaged towns places you at the heart of it. You feel suddenly privileged of the life that you have.
A Private War is a much-needed mirror to the volatile world that we live in. As horrific as the picture is, it is also inspiring to see the kind of journalists that are still out there living in deplorable conditions, trying to best to get stories out just so that you and I may care.