2018 MIDDLEBURG FILM FESTIVAL: The narrative feature debut of Matthew Heineman, acclaimed and brilliant documentary filmmaker of “City of Ghosts” and “Cartel Land,” shines a light on one of the most endearing and renowned figures in journalism: Marie Colvin in “A Private War.”  Perhaps the best role of her career to date, Rosamund Pike is a vital carriage, likely to inspire the most hungry and thirsty teenagers to line up for journalism school. Holding it all together, Pike’s performance is enough to recommended the film to anyone who wants to see prime examples of a dedicated actress and a heartbreaking story that is still occurring today.

A Private War,” tells the story of one of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time, Marie Colvin (Pike).  An utterly fearless and rebellious spirit, Marie is driven to the front lines of conflicts across the globe, including Sri Lanka, Lebanon, and Syria, giving a voice to voiceless, and giving the world a reason to care about the oppressed and suffering.

Rosamund Pike gives a tour-de-force performance in a film about willpower and determination.  Marie Colvin was a woman who saw the atrocities of so many countries, many of which are still suffering today. As any person who goes to war, Marie develops PTSD, suffering from nightmares and anxiety, while sinking herself into alcohol and disconnected relationships. Pike exudes all these traits.  From merely taking on that deep and gruff voice, she lays into Marie with a concentration and fervency we’ve never seen of her. Ripping through scenes like an unpredictable tornado, Pike slams on the brakes of her emotions, locking eyes with the viewer, and requiring us to wait until we can proceed some more.  It’s a dynamite turn that is unforgettable.

Jamie Dornan, who plays Paul Conroy, a photographer brought on as Marie’s right-hand man, is exceptionally remarkable. Dornan’s role and performance further prove his ambivalence and disdain for Christian Grey and the entire “Fifty Shades” franchise as here he truly delivers. Stanley Tucci is concise yet short while Tom Hollander sinks his teeth into a juicy editor role.

Screenwriter Amash Amel, who adapts Marie Brenner’s article, “Marie Colvin’s Private War” for Vanity Fair, seems to handle too much material to put a consistent film together.  Along with Heineman’s decision to tell certain parts of Colvin’s story and not others (i.e., her second marriage or any relationship with her family), the first half of the film is quite the chore. We travel over an eleven year period, Marie loses her eye, her first husband (twice), travels to many wartorn countries, and shows signs of alcoholism and one night stands.  It becomes almost too much to bear, suggesting that this may have worked better as a mini-series or perhaps even a three-hour cinematic venture of a compelling woman.

What saves much of the first half, besides Pike as mentioned above, is inventive camera work from Robert Richardson, and a pulsating sound design that places you right into the fray. Composer H. Scott Salinas should also be commended for his deeply felt chords on some heightened moments.

A Private War” is far from perfect but showcases enough destruction and inspiration to get you off the couch, look up some of these cruelties and horrors, and try to find a way to help. The spirit of Marie Colvin is felt within the film, and Pike’s embodiment of this hero is something we should all be proud to stand with in a climate where the soul of our humanity is deeply troubled.

“A Private War” screened at the Middleburg Film Festival, is distributed by Aviron Pictures and opens in theaters limitedly on Nov. 16.

GRADE(★★½)

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “A PRIVATE WAR” ranks among the contenders!