Under the Wire is a documentary about the war correspondent Marie Colvin. It is also, just as much, a film about her photographer colleague Paul Conroy. Having worked on many assignments together, they travelled to Syria in February 2012. The country was closed to the outside world and caught up, as it is now, in a vicious civil war.
Soon after her arrival, Colvin was killed while reporting on the conflict, a victim of the relentless bombardment of Homs. Her loss, one among so many in that country, hit the headlines because Colvin had been writing from various theatres of wars for more than two decades while working for The Sunday Times. And, as in so many of her previous war assignments, she was determined to report on what was really happening from the middle of the battle zone, whatever the personal risk.
The film has a head start over many documentaries about the reality of war because of Conroy’s superior film footage captured while on assignment. In this, Colvin comes across as forthright, opinionated and battle-hardened – and also, possibly, foolhardy. Courage is a virtue, but there is a point when that quality heads into a territory where the normal rules of self-preservation appear suspended. It is then that one wonders about the motivations of war correspondents in general. In that regard, this film raises more questions than it answers.
Under the Wire has drama, pathos and tension. Its 140-minute running time speeds by. It also records much heartbreak – not just the death of Colvin, but also the ongoing tragedy of the Syrian people. In wars the non-combatants are often reduced to casualty statistics; here they are given names and faces, as are the brave doctors trying frantically to save lives in a desperate situation.
In the end, the film provokes a mixture of emotions. It is not so much a documentary about the life of Colvin as a record of her last assignment and, subsequently, of how Conroy escaped from the seemingly hopeless position he found himself in.
What Under the Wire does not attempt to do is to give the backstory of either Colvin or Conroy in any depth. Intriguingly, we learn that the latter was in the British Army but little else. Colvin is even more elusive. Before we see her in Syria, we are told that she was a veteran war journalist and had lost an eye while reporting on the civil war in Sri Lanka – but, again, not much more. On screen, the footage of her in civilian life is sparse and adds little to our picture of who she was.
Under the Wire treats us to a first-rate thriller about life as a war correspondent. It is a fascinating document exploring what it means to report on front-line situations in the Middle East today. As to the motivations of journalists like Colvin and Conroy, who continue to risk their lives in the course of reporting, that is still unclear and, without learning more about their past lives and experiences, shall remain so.
Under the Wire is at selected cinemas and also available on iTunes