Film Review: Under the Wire

This riveting documentary about war correspondent Marie Colvin and photojournalist Paul Conroy provides a solid companion piece to 'A Private War.'
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Director Chris Martin’s potent documentary Under the Wire recounts the experiences of celebrated Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin and her dedicated photographer, Paul Conroy. The film, adapted from Conroy’s book about Colvin’s final assignment, recounts the colleagues’ dangerous experiences in Homs, Syria.

This intense film opens with handheld footage and Conroy confessing that he is out of options. Music plays like a heartbeat on the soundtrack. The film then flashes back to Beirut, where Colvin is “bearing witness” to the horrors of war. Her work is justly given its due; Colvin was a driven reporter who had connections that got her exclusive interviews with the likes of Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gaddafi. There are clips of her reporting with her trademark eye patch—she lost an eye in Sri Lanka—and telling anecdotes such as one about the photographer who said he was more frightened of Colvin than the war they were covering.

These scenes certainly celebrate Colvin, but they also carefully set up Paul Conroy’s story, grounding both of their lives and work in the urgency and reality of the war zone. When Martin shows a few of Conroy’s photographs, they are striking. As the “double act” of Colvin and Conroy head to Libya, they seek to tell the stories of “small people on the ground who are suffering.” They report on the Arab Spring, and go to Syria, where they hope to go to Homs.

Conroy takes pains to describe the area’s landscape as Martin features footage of it. As Conroy mentions bullets whizzing past him, he claims he is unable to determine how close they are, which is worrying. As he describes illegally crossing into Syria, it is quite chilling. Viewers will get caught up in the story and understand the excitement of these risky encounters. What’s more, the film guides viewers as to the judgment calls the pair are forced to make, such as: Who should Conroy and Colvin trust?

Under the Wire introduces one reliable member of the crew’s team, Wa’el, a Syrian translator, who describes the thick air of a storm drain—the artery into Homs—in a way that it is palpable. That Conroy and Colvin must travel through this drain to get their story would make for great fiction if it weren’t already fact.

Martin also features excerpts from Colvin’s articles, such as one about a widows’ basement, that show why she was such a great war correspondent. Another piece, from East Timor in 1999, about defenseless refugees in a UN compound, shows how journalism can make a difference; had Colvin not remained and reported about this situation, these people would have likely died.

But an hour into the documentary, Colvin is killed along with Remi Ochlik, a French photographer, by a rocket attack. The story shifts to focus on Conroy’s experiences, which are truly harrowing. He is badly wounded with a hole in his leg big enough to put a fist in. Holed up in a room with two other journalists—Edith Bouvier, who suffered a double fracture, and William Daniels—they need to make an escape. As the Syrian Red Crescent arrives to provide an ambulance, Conroy must make a decision that could save or end his life. (It might cross viewers’ minds how Colvin might have handled the situations the injured Conroy finds himself in after she dies.)

Conroy does live—that is not a spoiler—but the arduous journey he describes is remarkable as well as inspirational and purposeful. He explains that he wants to tell the stories that he and Colvin did, which is more important now that she is unable to.

Under the Wirecements Colvin’s legacy as it illustrates the value of getting to the truth and making it public. In Martin’s hands, Conroy’s story is no less compelling.