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Under the Wire documentary review: journalists under fire in Syria

Under the Wire green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A harrowing portrait of the slaughter of civilians and the urban destruction that was the siege of Homs in 2012, and a terrific honoring of journalist Marie Colvin, who died getting the story out to the world.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about women, especially real women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

After you’ve been thoroughly riveted by A Private War and intrigued by the “complete and utter one-off” who was legendary foreign correspondent Marie Colvin, you absolutely must see Under the Wire, the documentary based on the book by Colvin’s photographer, Paul Conroy. Or catch Wire before you see War, in order to steel yourself for it.

Here, Conroy talks on camera about his work with Colvin, and in particular their fateful stay in Syria in February 2012, during which Colvin was killed when Bashar al-Assad specifically targeted the few brave journalists who were reporting on him massacring his own citizens in the city of Homs. French photojournalist Remi Ochlik was also killed in the same attack, and Conroy and Ochlik’s colleague Edith Bouvier, who also appears here, were badly injured and were lucky to eventually escape Homs in order to get proper medical treatment. The bulk of Wire consists of footage from the siege of Homs: some shot by Conroy, though much was lost in that fatal bombing of the journalists, so director Christopher Martin hunted down video shot by Syrian survivors documenting the destruction of the city and its people. Babies dying because there’s no medical equipment; doctors in makeshift first-aid clinics screaming on YouTube videos for help from the outside world, a basement where dozens of women and kids are hiding out from the bombing…

Marie Colvin taking notes at the bombed-out shell of a house in Homs where four old ladies were killed by their president. (Photo by Paul Conroy.)

Marie Colvin taking notes at the bombed-out shell of a house in Homs where four old ladies were killed by their president. (Photo by Paul Conroy.)

In a bit of archival footage of Colvin, she talks about what war journalism means to her: it’s not about reporting on what models of tanks are inflicting damage, “it’s about people, it’s about what people are going through.” Under the Wire is very much a continuation of her mission. This is a harrowing portrait of modern warfare that isn’t even warfare: “it was slaughter,” Conroy says. We see how Colvin’s tenacity and her empathy — “she was connecting with every person she talked to,” Conroy’s and her translator, Wa’el (no surname given), says here — combined in a unique way to feed off each other: the angrier she got on behalf of those whose predicament she was reporting, the better she got, as a writer and a witness. Her live broadcast from Homs, on CNN, on which she flat-out called it a “lie” that the Syrian regime was targeting only terrorists, not civilians, is so shocking to listen to again, particularly because of how in the years since then, such blatant lies by the powerful simply are not being called out in such direct terms by journalists. They hardly ever have been, of course, but it feels like we need that more than ever.

It’s Conroy who describes Colvin here, with clear and enormous admiration, as that “complete and utter one-off.” She was all about the power of journalism to protect the innocent, scare the powerful, and change the world, and this is a terrific honoring of her, of the work that she did — and of Conroy’s work, too — and of the stories she wanted to get out. Under the Wire makes us feel her loss very keenly indeed.


see also:
A Private War movie review: this is not fake news (#LFF2018)


Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.


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green light 4 stars

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watch at home

Under the Wire (2018) | directed by Christopher Martin
US/Can release: Nov 16 2018
UK/Ire release: Sep 07 2018

MPAA: rated R for language and disturbing violent images
BBFC: rated 15 (images of real dead bodies and injuries, strong threat, strong language)

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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