LFF 2018: A Private War (2018)

Directed by: Matthew Heineman
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Faye Marsay, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander
UK Release Date: N/A

Written by Dave Curtis

War, what is it good for? after watching documentary filmmaker Mathew Heineman’s narrative debut the answer is clearly absolutely nothing. A Private War is a biopic which follows war correspondent Marie Colvin through her stellar career.

The true horrors of war are never an easy thing to see and war reporter Marie Colvin had been to them all in the last 20 years or so. She dared to go where others wouldn’t (Iraq, Libera and Syria). Rosamund Pike plays Colvin the award-winning journalist who it seems is more at home on the front line and in danger than when she is at home in London. She is not a likeable person, she struggles in social occasions and only seems to find peace when her life is in danger.

The film begins with an overhead shot of Homs (Syria) in 2012. It is completely destroyed, buildings are barely standing and there aren’t any signs of any life. A voiceover of Colvin can be heard being interviewed on why she does what she does. It quickly backtracks to earlier parts of her career. The film sets off re-playing key points in her life that will eventually lead to that fateful day in Homs.

We have seen films like this before but what sets A Private War apart is that this is so recent. This isn’t years and years ago. This is a conflict that is still happening.  There is no turning away and not showing what is actually happening in Syria, it dares to be truthful (much like Colvin). Strong images of dead bodies of adult and children are offered held for an uncomfortable long time. Heineman isn’t doing this by mistake, he wants you to see it, he wants to put you on the front line with Colvin, to see what she saw, experience what she went through.

Rosamund Pike really does capture the spirt and voice of Marie Colvin. This may be her best performance. It is definitely her best turn since Gone Girl. It is frustrating to watch her slip further and further into depression and PTSD. Marie is not really a likeable character, so being invested in her story can solely be attributed to Pike’s performance

There is also strong support from the rest of the cast. Tom Hollander is Sean Ryan her editor at the London’s Sunday Times. His overly caring but really pushy act is well balanced. He wants the stories, but it is really worth putting Marie in those situations? By the end, you can see the torment all over his face. Jamie Dornan’s plays Paul Convoy Marie’s trusted photographer who will follow her anywhere. Dornan’s Liverpudlian accent is just about passable. In some scenes, it just disappears completely. Stanley Tucci also has a small role but he pretty much plays himself (which isn’t a bad thing).

A Private War really lands when it eventually gets to Syria and the final 40 minutes is as tense and dramatic as anything that has been seen this year. The first hour, on the other hand, is a little clumsy. It bounces around from past to present and then back again in an uneasy fashion. It just needed to be a little smoother. It does get a little confusing which doesn’t help when you are just to connect to characters and the storyline.

When A Private War focuses on Marie Colvin covering at the front it really does deliver, but it is when she back in the UK and dealing with her inner demons that the film really struggles. Thankfully, Pike puts in a barnstorming performance which could attract some buzz when it comes to award season. A biopic on a war reporter may not appeal to many but it is worth seeing for Pike alone.

Dave’s Verdict

3

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REVIEW: The Children Act

Year: 2018
Directed by: Richard Eyre
Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead

Written by Corey Hughes

Richard Eyre’s latest film, ‘The Children Act’, is an interesting project for the esteemed director; a story of a renowned judge and her battle with hard-hitting cases and her dilapidating marriage. It’s part-drama and part-romance, a genre fusion that Eyre is familiar with, which is why it’s frustrating to see his court-room drama crumble away so easily after such a promising opening act.

Emma Thompson is Fiona Maye, a hard-headed, sophisticated, and by-the-book judge who, with her marriage with Stanley Tucci’s Jack slowly crumbling before her, must juggle morality with the law in her decision to approve a blood transfusion for a young Jehovah’s Witness (Fionn Whitehead) who refuses the procedure on religious principle. It’s a heavy topic, but one that warrants its own story; a tale adapted for the screen by Ian McEwan, the author of the source material himself.

The issue at hand is a controversial case, but both McEwan and Eyre are cautious and delicate enough to objectively depict both sides of the debate with no sense of authorial bias, with both sides of the coin being shown with no sign of villainy. Such objectivity is achieved through Thompson’s performance that remains both professional and diligent, with her trademark charm channelling a true sense of moral curiosity about the young boy and his welfare. As the film progresses her character develops in a way that is dependant on her ability to shift between professionalism and her moral obligation as a human being, a juxtaposition that Thompson handles with a great deal of maturity; which is to be expected of course. Tucci, although we don’t see enough of him, is just as fascinating as his co-star, whose scarce appearances throughout the film add an element of banality to the proceedings. His dry exchanges with his wife (“I think I want an affair”) not only perfectly capture the nature of their exhausted relationship, but also showcase his hopelessness as a character; a hopeless romantic who is secondary to his wife’s chaotic professional lifestyle. This is a film that would sink without the duality between the pair, but thankfully their combined on-screen presence maintains the film’s buoyancy.

Where the film does start to sink, however, is with its inability to coherently juggle between the main story of the case itself and the additional sub-plot of Fiona and Whitehead’s Adam’s questionable relationship. What starts as a hard-hitting court-room drama soon plays out as a messy hybridisation of ‘The Graduate’ and ‘The King of Comedy’, a surreal sub-plot that depicts Adam’s irrational romantic and spiritual fascination with the older Fiona – a fascination spurred by his ever-diminishing faith. It feels bizarrely out of place and doesn’t hit the emotional heights that it intends to, culminating in an underwhelming denouement that takes away from the film’s stunning first half.

At its best, ‘The Children Act’ is a fascinating insight into the life of a troubled judge whose marriage is incessantly burdened by her relentless work ethic. But at its most, it’s a convoluted and bizarre story of a young man’s quest for romantic and spiritual self-discovery that is as clichĂ© and as convoluted as it sounds.

COREY’S RATING:

3

Rosamund Pike Is War Correspondent Marie Colvin In First Trailer For ‘A Private War’

“In a world where journalism is under attack, Marie Colvin (Academy Award nominee Rosamund Pike) is one of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time. Colvin is an utterly fearless and rebellious spirit, driven to the frontlines of conflicts across the globe to give voice to the voiceless, while constantly testing the limits between bravery and bravado. After being hit by a grenade in Sri Lanka, she wears a distinctive eye patch and is still as comfortable sipping martinis with London’s elite as she is confronting dictators. Colvin sacrifices loving relationships, and over time, her personal life starts to unravel as the trauma she’s witnessed takes its toll. Yet, her mission to show the true cost of war leads her — along with renowned war photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) — to embark on the most dangerous assignment of their lives in the besieged Syrian city of Homs. Based on the extraordinary life of Marie Colvin, A PRIVATE WAR is brought to the screen by Academy Award nominee and critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker  in his pulse-pounding narrative feature debut”

Directed by: Matthew Heineman

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci

Release Date: November 2nd, 2018 (US – UK TBA)