Rosamund Pike ex­cels in war cor­re­spon­dent drama

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Phillips Chicago Tri­bune

There’s no movie blather like jour­nal­ism movie blather.

Even if you’re not an of­fi­cially des­ig­nated en­emy of the peo­ple, you can usu­ally tell when a fact-based but fic­tion-for­ward biopic about in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters or a war cor­re­spon­dent set­tles for short­cuts, speech-y over­state­ment and, yes, fake news. They’re not all “Spot­light,” in other words, though truth hardly counts for ev­ery­thing in the movies. If it did, no­body could en­joy news­pa­per fables as var­ied as “Blessed Event” (1932), “Park Row” (1952), “Be­tween the Lines” (1977) and the most ex­u­ber­ant bits, in and among the blather, in last year’s “The Post.”

The new film “A Pri­vate War” ranks higher than most, in the truth depart­ment and in cin­e­matic sto­ry­telling. What­ever your per­sonal in­ter­est or dis­in­ter­est in Sun­day Times re­porter Marie Colvin’s line of work, the way she did it — and the bloody global con­flicts she ran to­ward, full gal­lop — makes for a tense, en­gross­ing ac­count.

Colvin was killed in Syria in 2012 while cov­er­ing the As­sad regime’s slaugh­ter of its own peo­ple; Rosamund Pike, best known in Amer­ica as the heart­less heart of “Gone Girl,” por­trays Colvin. The cast­ing isn’t ideal; the ac­tress car­ries trace el­e­ments of roy­alty with her ev­ery­where she goes. Yet this is Pike’s best work on screen out­side British pe­riod pieces. Doc­u­men­tary-trained di­rec­tor Matthew Heine­man’s nar­ra­tive fea­ture de­but leans into the mess and com­pli­ca­tion of Colvin’s life and away, thank God, from saint­hood.

The movie’s based on the MPAA rat­ing: R (for dis­turb­ing vi­o­lent im­ages, lan­guage through­out, and brief sex­u­al­ity/nu­dity) Run­ning time: 1:46 2012 Van­ity Fair fea­ture “Marie Colvin’s Pri­vate War” by Marie Bren­ner, though screen­writer Arash Amel pulls from other sources too. More or less chrono­log­i­cally Amel fol­lows the last 12 years in the life of the Long Is­land, N.Y.-raised Lon­don trans­plant, from the Sri Lanka civil war as­sign­ment that cost her a left eye (she wore a patch there­after) to the U.S.-led Iraq in­va­sion to Libya (she was propo­si­tioned, re­lent­lessly, by Moam­mar Gad­hafi) to Afghanistan and fi­nally, fate­fully, to Syria.

Pho­tog­ra­pher Paul Conroy worked and trav­eled with Colvin through much of this. Jamie Dor­nan (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) plays him as a loyal col­league per­pet­u­ally at risk. Di­rec­tor Heine­man can’t do much about the hoarier lines, as when Tom Hol­lan­der (play­ing Colvin’s edi­tor) com­forts his rat­tled, dis­il­lu­sioned war re­porter back in Lon­don: “If you lose your con­vic­tion, then what hope do the rest of us have?”

To be sure, news­pa­per peo­ple talk like that some­times. Colvin once said: “How do I keep my craft alive in a world that doesn’t value it?” The movie, and Pike’s per­for­mance, re­flects that itchy side of Colvin’s per­son­al­ity, along with her al­co­holism and PTSD. We’re with her, and with pho­tog­ra­pher Conroy, when a mass grave is ex­ca­vated, and the griev­ing of vil­lagers be­comes a col­lec­tive wail of mourn­ing. Her “act” back home, if it was an act, was part tough cookie, part reck­less, high­fly­ing hob­nob­ber, a way of keep­ing her demons at bay.

“A Pri­vate War” doesn’t in­vent much, though the script (by ne­ces­sity in a movie un­der two hours) elim­i­nates a mar­riage here, a re­sume item there. Pike’s un­blink­ing, em­phatic qual­ity has its lim­i­ta­tions, but by the film’s mid­point she rolls with ev­ery scene. Fierce and alert, she holds the screen. Heine­man made a very shrewd de­ci­sion not to en­no­ble this woman, or lard “A Pri­vate War” with starry close-ups. It’s about an on-the-ground re­porter who, in her words, sim­ply wanted to make the ca­su­al­ties of war “part of the record.” Show­ing us what that meant is enough.

PAUL CONROY/AV­I­RON PIC­TURES

The late Sun­day Times cor­re­spon­dent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) is the sub­ject of “A Pri­vate War.”

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