It does seem like journalists have targets on their backs these days. In A Private War, written by Arash Amel and based on the life of war correspondent Marie Colvin, journalists put themselves in the crosshairs. They do it time and again for one reason. In her own words, it’s “going into places torn by chaos, destruction, death and pain, and trying to bear witness to that. …The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people, be they government, military or the man on the street, will care…”
By getting to the people suffering needlessly, victims of war, she reached the people whose stories are most piteous and desperate. She did it in the hope that her work would elicit pity and outrage in her readers, that she could move them to intervene.
That we have to actually see individuals up close in their suffering to understand the horror of war is probably a failing as a species. Colvin knew this though, so she went where the danger was closest, ignoring her fear and running toward danger.
Rosamund Pike takes a page out of Colvin’s book. She captures both strength and vulnerability in a fearless performance. Colvin was deeply flawed. She too suffered and was left traumatized by war. She made choices that put her and the people associated with her into difficult and dangerous positions. Pike carries that entire burden in her portrayal.
With a deep, rasping voice and an expression that often borders on barely contained panic, Pike as Colvin throws herself into dinner parties and devastated, war-torn cities with equal bravado, as if a sniper could be around any corner. They’re very difference settings, but in each case there is a distinct feeling that it’s Colvin against the world. Her eyes always dart about, looking for trip wires or sniper nests. Even while receiving a journalism award she continues to sweep the room for dangers.
Rosamund Pike and Jamie Dornan
Colvin is portrayed as a woman who would wear nothing less than La Perla, but who remains ill at ease in luxury and comfort. She’s most in her element when civility has broken down. Where there is suffering and pain, where the strong exert unbearable pressure upon the weak, where death lurks in every corner, that is where she is truly alive. Determination glints in her eye as she stalks through a military airplane hangar or runs for cover under enemy fire, but when she returns home to London, a vodka martini is all that stands between her and emotional collapse.
Director Matthew Heineman has done a noteworthy job of capturing the madness of war. These scenes course with adrenaline. When we follow Colvin and her local contacts to the front lines, there’s a real sense of rushing inevitability. When our protagonists actually make it where they intend to be, it feels like a significant relief. We take a breath despite hearing faraway booming, the suggestion of bombs narrowly escaped.
Then Heineman captures the victims. We feel the helplessness of innocents suffering. In those moments you can feel the claustrophobia. See their empty stares, listen to their stories knowing they are no work of fiction, feel the silent accepting lethargy of the long-suffering. The helplessness is heartbreaking. What makes it more upsetting is seeing the very realistic conditions that drove the real people represented by these onscreen proxies out of their homes and knowing that this is no work of fiction. Thousands of people like those portrayed died in those bombed-out buildings, ended up as bodies washed up on foreign shores. Some still huddle in hostile refugee camps, cold and antagonized by people who don’t understand what they have been through.
This is why Colvin’s work was so significant; not knowing the stranger or understanding their lives, being removed from dangers they have faced, makes us indifferent to their pain. Marie Colvin was one person, but her work touched thousands. She showed us the power we each have to be a catalyst for good, to change lives. We just have to choose to.
Photo credit: Paul Conroy, Aviron Pictures