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Film Review: A Private War is a clear-eyed testament to the power of journalism

Legendary Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin, played by Rosamund Pike, covering the conflict in Sri Lanka in A Private War.

Paul Conroy/Aviron Pictures

A Private War

Directed by: Matthew Heineman

Written by: Marie Brenner and Arash Amel

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Starring: Rosamund Pike

Classification: 18A; 110 minutes

rating

Listen, at this moment in the culture wars, I’d give this film three stars just for existing, because it’s a powerful but clear-eyed acknowledgment of the importance of journalism. Luckily, it happens to be excellent.

Its director, Matthew Heineman, is making his feature debut, but he brings a wealth of experience as a director of journalistic documentaries (Cartel Land, City of Ghosts), and a reverence for the pursuit of truth. He’s found a mighty hero in Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike, a near-lock for an Oscar nomination), the American-born, London-based war reporter who lost an eye covering the conflict in Sri Lanka, wore pearls given to her by Yasser Arafat, humanized complex geopolitical issues (“The dead girl was wearing pearl earrings. She probably thought she looked pretty that day”), and died reporting from Homs, Syria, while bombs rained down. (She insisted on staying, though most journalists had been evacuated.)

Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin plots her next move in A Private War.

Jonathan Prime/Aviron Pictures

Based on a Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner, the film doesn’t flinch from Colvin’s driven, destructive side. But it’s best when she’s on the ground in a war zone, bearing witness.

Heineman cast real refugees whenever he could, and hearing their stories makes it painfully clear why Colvin felt she had no choice but to live – and die – the way she did.

A Private War opens Nov. 16 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal

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