Review: 'A Private War' would have worked much better as a documentary

Marcus Goh
Contributor
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Despite Marie Colvin’s contributions towards world peace, she’s not as well known as she should be. That’s where A Private War steps in, a dramatisation of the award-winning journalist’s life as she stepped fearlessly into war zone after war zone, to expose the atrocities that were being kept hidden from the world. While it does shed more light on Marie Colvin, it doesn’t quite work as a narrative and would have been better off as a documentary.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

A Private War feels more like an anthology of Marie Colvin stories, where she goes to various locations and reports on the activities there, before going home to handle the drama in her personal life. In fact, each vignette is even bookended with large, superimposed text that states the date and location that Marie Colvin is in, just to make it absolutely clear that a certain amount of time has passed. As a result, they feel like disparate scenes that don’t link together at all.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Individually, though, each vignette is strong and gives us a clearer picture of what Marie Colvin was like. Yet stringing them all together does not automatically turn it into a narrative. It feels like each vignette would have worked better as a re-enactment that could have been anchored by interviews with the late Marie Colvin. As a narrative, though, it fails.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

However, the film partially makes up for it with snappy, quote-worthy dialogue that will leave you ruminating over its insights long after you have left the cinema. The supporting characters do a good job of playing the foil to Colvin (Rosamund Pike), and her love interests, though few, showcase an interesting side of her personality. As far as character studies go, the film does an excellent one on Marie Colvin.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

In fact, the portrayal of Marie Colvin’s character could be said to reflect the universal human condition. Her fears and motivations are relatable, which humanises what would otherwise be a larger-than-life character. Pike’s performance as Colvin is Oscar-worthy, especially when it comes to the more nuanced aspects of her personality. She grounds the dramatic moments with a human touch, creating a more three-dimensional character for Marie Colvin.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Still, the subject matter can get a little dry at times, especially if you lack the context necessary to understand all the political strife that takes place in the background. And again, the lack of any form of narrative impetus makes it difficult for you to truly feel for the plot of the film. A Private War should have made a stronger attempt to stitch all its elements into some semblance of a story, in order to make good use of the marvellous performances of both its lead actress and supporting cast.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

The film will have you wondering what it would have been like were it to have been produced as documentary with dramatic re-enactments — would it have resonated better with audiences? It’s certainly a thought-provoking piece as it stands, but it could have been much, much better.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Sure.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? No.

Score: 2.9/5

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 110 minutes

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

A Private War is a biographical drama about the life of journalist Marie Colvin. It is based on a 2012 article in Vanity Fair, Marie Colvin’s Private War.

The film sheds light on the later years of Marie Colvin’s life, starting from the period when she got blinded in her left eye to her final assignment in Syria.

A Private War is directed by Matthew Heineman and written by Arash Amel. It stars Rosamund Pike (Marie Colvin), Jamie Dornan (Paul Conroy), Stanley Tucci (Tony Shaw), and Tom Hollander (Sean Ryan). It is rated M-18.

A Private War opens in cinemas:
– 31 January, 2019 (Singapore)
– 28 November, 2018 (Philippines) 

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Marcus Goh is a scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”,  “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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