In "A Private War" Irish actor Jamie Dornan plays a journalist who risks his own life to bring us the truth about the war in Syria, in a triumphant new film that is a timely reminder of the enduring value of the free press.
Marie Colvin, the real-life war correspondent for The Sunday Times, covered all the major conflicts in the Middle East for years, including the brutal Syrian civil war, often placing her life on the line to get to the truth.
In "A Private War", the triumphant new film about her life and work, Colvin is played by actress Rosamund Pike and is joined onscreen by Jamie Dornan, who plays the British photojournalist Paul Conroy who traveled with her.
From their first meeting, the unlikely pair hit it off, becoming a formidable award-winning reporting team for The Times in the world's most deadly war zones.
Pike turns in a multifaceted performance as Colvin and Dornan does his best screen work to date. In fact, in "A Private War" he banishes all memory of his signature marquee hit, the bodice-ripping "Fifty Shades Of Grey" trilogy.
Interestingly, Dornan has played a journalist twice on the big screen in the past two months, first as fish out of water Irish journalist in Hollywood interviewing an unhinged Herve Villechaize, the iconic 1970's actor played by Peter Dinklage. But in A Private War, Dornan's second turn playing a journalist this month, he looks and sounds like a very different man.
"A Private War" is skillfully directed by Matthew Heineman, taking us on a ground level journey through the conflagrations in Afghanistan and Syria.
Colvin and Conroy both travel lightly, unafraid of placing themselves in the kind of danger that local people think foolhardy or even insane. Both continually run toward the danger that others are fleeing. It makes for a particularly exciting film.
What Pike shows us in the electric performance is that there was far more going on behind the scenes than those in her circle were often aware of, including functional alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder and at times, very clearly, a kind of death wish.
One of the jolting ironies of watching "A Private War", a film that openly celebrates the value of principled journalism and the free press, is that we watch it in 2018 knowing full well that if Donald Trump had his way the only news we would ever read now would arrive via his Twitter feed.
The free press may be under relentless attack from our own loose canon president (who angrily resents its many checks on his power) but in the brutal dictatorships of Middle East heavy-handed intimidation tactics have always been the rule.
Among their many roles journalists exist to place a public check on, "A Private War" reminds us, is the abuses of power our most unscrupulous leaders dream of. Even in the age of Twitter and Facebook, when leaders can bypass the big media filter to reach voters directly, they still deeply resent journalists ability to help shape the national conversation. Colvin knew that and took her role as a truth teller seriously, even at the expense of herself.
One of the biggest questions the film asks is why did she risk her life for a story? What sort of compulsion drives reporters like Colvin to run toward war and then write about it? After all, she reported from battle scenes as the mortars were still falling all around her.
What made her stories award-winning is that she described what she was seeing and feeling from the battleground itself. There was no hiding from the truth, there was no gilding the lily, she turned on her camera and pressed record on her tape player and the first draft of history was written each time.
It's exhilarating to be in a major conflict. No one tells you that. The danger can be half the excitement. "A Private War" asks some pretty heavy questions about Colvin and Conroy's motivations and Pike and Dornan are superb onscreen as they grapple with their implications.
Colvin was killed in the city of Homs in 2012 when the Syrian government bombed the building she was sheltering in. Photojournalist Paul Conroy was also badly injured in that attack but survived to tell the tale.
Between them, they stood witness to history and stand as stark reminders of how much reporters put on the line to bring us not the news that politicians want to hear, but the real news.