A Private War 1.0 stars

Private War movie poster

In 2017, director Matthew Heineman tried to make the world pay attention to the horrors of Syria’s civil war via City of Ghosts, a documentary about the citizen journalist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, some of whose members lived amid the slaughter — because it was their home. Here, he tries again, this time via the dramatized true story of professional journalist Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike, all in), a woman who, in her own words, “cared enough to go and write about it in a way that would make someone else care.” The film makes it clear that she was an extraordinary woman capable of doing extraordinary work, but it’s far from an extraordinary film. In seeking to portray Colvin’s personal complexity, it gives us a character so bifurcated as to appear mentally unstable: tough as nails one moment, disintegrating like wet tissue paper the next, with nary a through line. In portraying her brave and brilliant journalistic work, it gives us an omniscient angel: always right where she needs to be, armed with all the right background, full of pluck and moral indignation. And while it occasionally pulls away from Colvin to let the nightmarish inhumanity of war provide power and feeling, it all too often relies on juiced-up expressions of humanist heroism. At one point, she contemptuously tells a lover, “Fuck off back to your novels.” But A Private War’s greatest weakness is its decision to tell its story in conventionally dramatic fashion. 2018.

Matthew Lickona

This movie is not currently in theaters.

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