A Private War

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
A Private War Movie Poster Image
War violence, language, nudity in mature biopic.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 106 minutes

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Kids say

age 14+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Showcases courage of conflict journalists and crucial importance of work they do. Also a realistic portrait that includes terrific damage main character sustained in course of her work: PTSD, alcoholism, destroyed relationships, serious injury, and ultimately, death.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Portrayal of award-winning journalist Marie Colvin is multidimensional, unflinching. She's unquestionably a courageous, determined, highly intelligent, deeply dedicated, empathetic professional. But she's also wrestling with demons, makes some dangerous decisions. She enjoys support, comradeship from fellow conflict journalists and, eventually, an understanding partner.


Mostly takes the form of after-effects of war, but there are also occasional on-screen deaths and injuries from bombs, shrapnel, etc. Colvin loses an eye. Viewers see terrible injuries caused in war, including to children. Nothing particularly graphic is shown, but emotional impact might be high for younger/sensitive viewers.


Sex scenes include female nudity: breasts, side, and rear.


Persistent strong language, especially "f--k" and "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Colvin and many in her profession smoke and drink a lot, likely as self-medication to cope with what they see on a regular basis. Also social smoking and drinking in London.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Private War is a fact-based drama about award-winning conflict journalist Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), who battled personal demons as she put her life on the line to report from some of the most dangerous places on Earth. Expect war-zone violence in which civilians -- including children -- are injured and killed; Colvin loses an eye. There's also frequent strong language (particularly "f--k" and "s--t."), sex scenes with partial nudity (breasts, rear, side), and the excessive drinking and smoking frequently done by people under extreme stress. Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, and Stanley Tucci co-star.

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What's the story?

In A PRIVATE WAR, conflict journalist Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) goes to some of the most dangerous places on Earth to report on life-and-death struggles that we'd never otherwise know about. She breaks major stories and wins top awards, but at what cost? Colvin suffers serious wounds -- both physical and emotional -- while battling her own demons but presses on, eventually reporting from inside the horrific Syrian civil war. Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, and Stanley Tucci co-star.

Is it any good?

This is a solidly made drama powered by an award-worthy performance by Pike. Not only does the Oscar nominee (for Gone GirI) completely de-glam herself and convincingly convey Marie Colvin's unstoppable drive and deeply conflicted nature, but her vocal impression is startlingly accurate. (To hear and see the real Colvin for comparison, stick around through the credits.) Along with Viper Club, A Private War helps audiences better understand the risks of conflict journalism. Colvin earned her standing as one of the best and most courageous in her business (Foreign Press' Journalist of the Year, three British Press Awards as Foreign Reporter of the Year), filing from Libya, Chechnya, Kosovo, Sri Lanka (where she lost an eye), and other locations.

But the most compelling part of this drama is the titular private war within Colvin. Repeatedly subjecting herself to some of the worst things humans can witness in some of the most terrifying of environments, she suffers debilitating PTSD and self-medicates. Nevertheless, she persists. Director Matthew Heineman is an award-winning documentarian (City of Ghosts, Cartel Land), and he brings a solid storytelling eye to Colvin's story. There's no need to pump up the drama, given how perilous her job actually was and how she struggled to hold on to her relationships and her sanity in real life. Fortunately, Heineman doesn't resort to the usual bag of dramatic tricks; he lets his star take the wheel and careen through the final years of Colvin's fascinating life.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in A Private War. How does it compare to what you might see in a less realistic action/superhero movie? Do all kinds of media violence have the same impact?

  • Why do you think the film is called A Private War?

  • Is Colvin a role model? Why or why not?

  • The film has a lot of mature content. Do you think these elements are all necessary to the story? Would the film have felt as truthful to Colvin's experiences if they had been left out?

  • Conflict journalists frequently risk their lives, often going where they're explicitly told not to because of the dangers. But without their reporting, we’d never know what was happening. Why do we need to know these things? Should they do what they're told instead?

Movie details

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For kids who love dramas

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