Our first movie this week, is a biopic from 2018 that turned up on Netflix, A Private War, directed by Matthew Heineman, and staring Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander and Stanley Tucci.
Marie Colvin was an American journalist who worked at The Sunday Times newspaper, where she travelled to dangerous countries, reporting on civil wars. This is recent history, as Colvin was killed in an artillery strike on Homs in Syria. I know that’s a spoiler but it only happeneed in 2012 so surely most people know about that, and her interview on TV with CNN’s Anderson Cooper a few hours beforehand.
The movie tells part of her extraordinary time as a war correspondant, showing her homelife, her fear, her bravery, her compassion, as well as the PTSD that resulted, but didn’t stop her from doing her job. It covers how she lost her eye in Sri Lanka’s civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2001 and wore an eyepatch ever after, and her interview with Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, and her final work in Syria.
This is Heineman’s first feature movie but he is well respected for his documentary work, which stood him in good stead for this kind of movie. The film was well structured, and the camera work very well done. The opening and closing shots of battle torn Homs are amazing as the camera rises out of the rubble of the city, rising slowly upwards encompassing more and more of the devastation Assad’s forces have wrought. Rosamund Pike, the quintessential English Rose who has a cut glass accent, throws herself into this rôle, acquiring the whisky laden, cigarette stained New York drawl you can hear in interviews with the real Marie, and nails the essence of this lady, a brilliant, committed performance. Along the way she joins up with a photographer, Paul Conroy played by Jamie Dornan, who does much better with a Liverpool accent than he ever did with his attempts to be Irish ~ his native tongue!) They work together really well, and you can feel the bond that must occur in this type of situation. Conroy survives the blast that kills Marie but was seriously injured, he’s back working as a photographer again now. Tom Hollander plays Sean Ryan, who was the foreign editor at The Sunday Times and Colvin’s boss. Hollander shows us the kindness and patience he had when dealing with Colvin, not surprised he’s now working for Save the Children. The only niggle I have is that the script is a bit clunky in places, but it really doesn’t detract from the story
Her friends have noted the irony of Marie being a feature as she was intent on reporting the story, not being the story, and there are books and articles and a documentary about her so I don’t suppose she’d be best pleased.
Fraggle rating: mostly excellent.
Our second movie begins Phil’s foray into the American civil war, and his first choice is Ride With The Devil, which he actually had on DVD and forgot about. Released in 1999 it is directed by Ang Lee and stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jeffery Wright and Jewel.
The movie follows Jake Roedel (Maguire) a German immigrant and Jack Bull Chiles (Ulrich), his rich friend who join the First Missouri Irregulars, a guerilla militia known as Bushwhackers, after Chiles Dad is murdered by Kansas pro-union Jayhawkers. The group they join includes George Clyde (Simon Baker) Daniel Holt (Jeffery Wright) a slave who grew up with Clyde and has been freed by him, Pitt Mackeson (Jonathon Rhys Myers) who looks like he wouldn’t be out of place in a girly rock band but has a predeliction for visciousness and murder and who steadily grows jealous of Roedell, and is led by Black John Ambroze (Jim Caviezel).
A lot goes on in this movie and Lee gives you troughs and peaks all the way through. Quiet times like in winter when the Bushwackers live in a dug-out on a sympathetic farmer’s land, and where Chiles falls in love with the widowed daughter Sue Lee Shelley (Jewel) and gets her pregnant, before succumbing to a gunshot wound after a skirmish with Union patrols. Then horrific scenes as when the Bushwhackers conglomerate under the leadership of William Quantrill (John Ales) and attack Lawrence in Kansas, wiping out a small force of Union soldiers on the outskirts before piling in to the town and killing anyone they deem to be favouring the Union. Holt and Roedell don’t take part in the killing of civilians, but get wounded anyway as they are escaping the troops that come to rescue the town, because Mackeson shoots Roedel in the leg, and Holt gets shot in the ribs.
Lee treats his characters sympathetically, and Roedel in particular suffers from the death of Clyde, but finds a new tolerance with his friendship with Holt. He and Sue Lee form a bond while he’s recovering at the farm, and eventually they marry. He comes to realise that what he’s fighting for has already gone, and decides to up sticks and move to California wiithhis new family. Lee doesn’t neglect the women’s roles in the movie, and is also adept at showing the bonds the men form from living as they do.
This is not so much a historical movie as a delving into the hearts and minds of the people who couldn’t understand why the Union wanted to interfere in their way of life. Slavery is addressed through the character of Holt, who in spite of being a ‘free’ man, is still beholden to Clyde and considered as ‘Clyde’s nigger’ by the others in the group. After Clyde dies during the Kansas attacks he becomes more his own person, and eventually strikes out on his own to track down his Mother who was sold in Texas. Lee is masterful at showing the dichotomies that arise in Civil War, for example when Roedel engineers the release of a captive Union man Alf Bowden (Mark Ruffalo) who he knows from living near him before the war, and we later find out Alf rides straight to Roedel’s home and kills his father. Lee also covers the anti-German sentiment of Southerners at that time, with Roedel sometimes being subjected to that prejudice, but at that time most of the German immigrants in Missouri are sympathetic to the Union, which we discover through Roedel senior.
The cinematography deserves a mention, long-time collaborator Frederick Elmes gets right in amongst the action and steers us through the Missouri landscape throughout the seasons. The costumes designed by Marit Allen and the firearms look authentic, and a goodly amount of horse riding stuntmen were employed to good effect.
I wasn’t expecting Toby Maguire to be so good, in spite of him being my favourite iteration of Spiderman, he brings a pathos and growing maturity to his character and holds the movie together, but I can’t find fault with any of the other actors either. Even Rhys Myers, who can be a bit flaky and OTT, transcends his girly looks and is a man you want to punch the lights out of. Jewel plays her steely backed Southern Belle well though it’s not a huge part.
I was expecting something along the lines of the big Union v Confederates battles such as Gettysburg, but Lee gives us a less black and white picture, in an area where things are less clearly defined. I hadn’t known about Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers until I watched this, so clearly I too will be learning Civil War history along with Phil 🙂
Fraggle Rating: Top Notch.