When “Serenity” was released earlier in the year, the essence of the cast and what seemed to be a noir structure gave it definite want-to-see possibility. Matthew McConaughey’s choices are always divisive but he has a certain idea of almost existential progression in most of his roles. The idea for example of making “Sea of Trees” or “Free State Of Jones” perceives to this thematic structure of his work. This film is no different though its blend of high concept and locale might be too much for some viewers to take or give patience to. With a director like Steven Knight, known for “Peaky Blinders”, the blend does have possibility but this is not Christopher Nolan or “Interstellar” for that matter. The comparison obviously moves in play since Anne Hathaway is a catalyst of sorts here as well as she was in that previous movie though in a different structure. The vamp structure she employs here might be a function of not just the plot but the rules that are set forth in the narrative. This blend of what motivates characters and indeed what their ultimate goals are is an interesting quandary within the story.
The film was shot on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean off of South Africa so the locale has an otherworldly quality in that the viewer almost can’t place where it is. Many of the characters are caricatures in this way but again that is a function of the plot without giving anything away. In selling a movie, subtlety and the way a film unfolds is much more criticized than ever before which made this specific release even tougher.
What “Serenity” does have is almost an 80s genre twist while similarly on a restrictive budget but with decent or at least recognizable stars. Diane Lane plays a character that is almost a piggy bank at times for McConuaghney’s Dell. Again when it all is said and done…her character makes sense within the structure even if it is light. Dijmon Honsou who also starred with McConaughey in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” also plays a structural part in the idea. He becomes a voice of reason but also one that unbalances the motivation. Again a specific notion of the plot. Even Jason Clarke as the baddie per se, has a specific arch that is meant as a commentary on what the underlying structure of the story actually is.
Towards the end, the breakdown of exposition might have been too much for audiences to handle because, while it is an intriguing idea, the dialogue, even though it is meant to be stilted at times, overplays its idea. The exposition, in addition, tries too hard even though there are holes in motivation and plot which are too glaring to ignore. Also, some of the sequences and the imagery, especially the jump cuts and McConaughey’s venture through water, may be symbolic but mostly function flat. In terms of technical, the transfer brings out the beauty of the location but the slipshod nature of some of the visual effects takes away from some of the power certain sequences could have had. There are no additional material on the disc, so the movie simply functions on its possibilities which may in time form an idea of one of those genre movies that tried but didn’t quite connect. However it might be one that will be revisited in years to come.
By Tim Wassberg
The interplay of energy and depression in “A Private War” is an interesting progression of sorts simply because it standardizes in a way the ideal of extreme situations. Marie Colvin, a real life journalist who was killed in Syria as she was covering the crisis there speaks to the personality of those who take on the most dangerous of jobs, not to fight but to try to understand the psychology and emotions of war…especially civil ones and why such battles are fought. The movie in its narrative leads to the progression and the realization of Marie at some point that despite wanting a family and a baby at certain junctures, those instincts were not as powerful as those leading her into war zones. And, as with most dopamine highs, the lows are reflected even more viciously. Rosamund Pike continues her portrayal of suffering yet extremely vital women who make certain choices to progress their lives further. She doesn’t seek understanding in terms of her character but does seek attention which is an interesting diametric. Of course human nature dictates a sort of deadening of the sense of regular life. Pike is never vain and shows her character in all of her realness while understanding how society changes in different modes of structure.
While most people, even her editor at the newspaper doesn’t quite understand her motivation, Jamie Dornan’s character Paul, a former soldier turned photographer does understand her travails. Dornan’s character is a thankless role per se and is quiet a lot of the time but is also an interesting choice for the actor who does take on more character based roles in comparison to his “Fifty Shades” work which undeniably follows him. The visual milieu of the story is also interesting. The director Matthew Heineman lets the story unfold in almost jump cut progression of Marie’s life as if her existence is almost *and realistically) schizophrenic. Cinematographer Robert Richardson, a genius in his own right, gives the movie an uncommon realism in its photography. While some visual effects are used, he uses Jordan in a very visceral way without betraying that it is not actually Syria or Iraq.
The eventual countdown towards Marie’s eventual loss in Syria seems inevitable but not empty. She was able to bring her perceptions to the masses even if sometimes she couldn’t fully interpret them on a personal level herself. Pike’s moments of breakdown with the character speak to this. When she is simply left alone in a shot in a hotel room with the camera resting on her does one get a full sense of the character she is portraying.
The extras on the disc are specific to the movie but don’t necessarily add any new insight. In “Becoming Marie Colvin”, Rosamund Pike’s perception of shrinking 2 cm because of the tense poise of Colvin does gives her movement credence as does Colvin’s real life photographer Paul Conroy speaking to Pike’s attention to detail as he watched her performing through a monitor. The “Women In The World Summit” Q&A makes sense but does not reveal any undeniable morsels. Finally, Annie Lennox speaking to the writing of the “Requiem” song for the end credits in the final featurette is brief but, in speaking to the opening verse, her explanation makes one realize exactly how she was capturing this woman’s journey.
“A Private War” is an intricate and perhaps overlooked element of the award’s season but speaks to Aviron Releasing approaching unique stories and mid-range pictures, which unfortunately, in the current moviemaking climate, is difficult to maintain on a theatrical level.
By Tim Wassberg