A Private War

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

A Private War

Few things are more interesting than exploring the personality traits of a thoroughly unusual person. A Private War does just that in a compelling way as it gives us a portrait of Marie Colvin, a London Times reporter whose motivations are a fascinating puzzle. Her true story is handed to us by actor Rosamund Pike under the direction of Matthew Heineman in a riveting film.

It is easy to say that this is the story of a dedicated reporter who is emotionally caught in the multiple tragedies of the Middle Eastern wars that have been killing thousands of people during recent decades. What is harder is deciphering the degree of Marie Colvin’s determination to deliver to the world, at great personal risk, the reality of the erasure of those thousands of people.

As a columnist for the Times, Colvin knows that to convey tragedy she must go to the places where it is unfolding. “You have to find the truth of it. You have to find the human cost of the act.” Colvin loses an eye in a brutal battle in Sri Lanka and goes back for more as we watch her compulsive smoking and drinking begin to swallow her. Though her friend warns that she has post-traumatic stress disorder, that never reduces her emotional need to educate the public about the tragedy of the violence.

Her editor at the Times (Tom Hollander in a quiet, terrific performance), tells her “you have a God given talent to make people feel,” as he tries to keep her safe – to no avail. Her response to those who try to keep her home, “I feel we have failed if we don’t tell the horrors.”

By the time the film shifts to Syria in 2012, we understand on a deep level that this is a woman who refuses to live in safety while others are suffering. She watches a whole generation dying of sickness, cold, and bullets without medical doctors or medicines to help them as they die. When Colvin turns from writing to broadcasting about the violence, she becomes a visible target. She dies in the field and since then, 500,000 innocent people have died.

This determined columnist gave the world the truth, but the world, upset though we may be, stops following because we believe there is nothing we can do. The power of this movie is the truth conveyed by one columnist dedicated to forcing the world to see what the Syrian regime was doing to an entire generation of innocent people.

Marie Colvin rivets us to the truth of what unfolds in this world of death while most of us pass it by as we read the newspapers each day. Credit Rosamund Pike with a performance that she developed while studying TV recordings of Colvin’s voice and way of moving. Pike studied and understood the depth of Marie Colvin and hands her complexity to us in a riveting way.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : A Private War
Word Count : 497
Running Time : 1:46
Rating : R
Date : October 28, 2018


Land of Mine

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Land of Mine

In all my years of slipping off to movies, I have never experienced anything like Land of Mine, a Danish story set in 1945 when the Danes forced German prisoners to search for and dismantle mines buried on the beautiful beaches of their country.

In the first scene, the Danish sergeant in charge displays his brutality with a force that silenced the theater for the full length of the film. After that there was not a sound in the theater. The natural expectation had been that it would be the good guy Danes vs. the bad guy Germans. That’s far too easy for this extraordinary study of what happens when men acquire the power of life or death over others, especially when the power shifts from one side to the other.

By assigning just twenty German boys to clear all the buried mines on just one beach, the movie becomes a graphic lesson of brutality unleashed on a personal level, a lesson in what war does to individuals. It is crafted so beautifully that it’s a safe bet that few stray thoughts came to anyone in that theater. Is anyone unaffected? No one moved when the lights came up and when they did, they lingered in the hallway, clustered in shock.

The monstrous Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller) has complete control over twenty young German soldiers, the skinny adolescent boys who were pulled in as the German ranks shrank as the war wore on. Under the sergeant’s brutal treatment, they crawl the beaches on their bellies as they stab the sand with probes. When the probe hits metal, they scrape the sand with their hands and unplug the fuse – unless it blows up. As if to confirm our broken assumption of the goodness of the Danes, we learn that the sergeant’s superiors are equally brutal. When we see flashes of decency in the sergeant, we realize again what war has done to him.

With rare skill, the film deals with what happens to those we think of as the good guys – here the Danish military who feel free to exact vengeance on the Germans who caused WWII, complicated by the fact that the enemy soldiers in this case are German schoolboys.

Those beautiful beaches became a field of death for Danes during war and for Germans post war. Both the Danish military and the German boys are acted with conviction so strong that it is no accident that we find ourselves astonished that our sympathies can shift at all.

When a movie is this overwhelming, the critical questions it raises become absorbing and the primary one is why, after centuries of wars that have killed millions, do men still sit around tables discussing war as a solution to disputes? This mighty film screams “Is there no other way?” Credit writer/director Martin Zandvliet with forcing us to think about that question. And credit the Danes for addressing both sides of it.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Land of Mine
Word Count : 493
Running time : 1:40
Rating : R
Date : 17 March 2017