In Theaters

Getting at the truth under trying circumstances can be challenging to say the least. But imagine what that undertaking might be like with the added dangers of bullets whizzing overhead and unseen land mines potentially lurking in the path of every step we take. Such a pursuit takes someone genuinely committed and eminently earnest about arduous tasks like these, the kind of individual profiled in the gripping new biopic, “A Private War” (web site, trailer).

London Times war correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) was never one to back off from a challenge. In years of covering conflicts in the world’s hotspots, she frequently took risks in getting the story, even if it meant placing her own personal safety in jeopardy. Through her forays into Sri Lanka, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, she often followed her own path to the truth, even when it meant costing her most of the use of one eye. But her work was truly astounding, earning her major press association accolades for her reporting.

London Times war correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) scans the map to learn about her next assignment in the gripping biopic, “A Private War.” Photo by Paul Conroy, courtesy of Aviron Pictures.

With the aid of photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan), Colvin made a particular effort to address the “human” side of inflamed conflicts. Headlines were one thing, but letting the world know about the high personal cost of war thrust upon those unwittingly caught in the crossfire was equally, if not more, important. She endeavored to reveal the suffering inflicted upon the innocents – the wives, mothers and children – who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was particularly true during her reporting from Syria, where she made front page news and informed the world of the carnage occurring around her.

Such devotion, however, took its toll on Marie herself. Her personal life was virtually nonexistent – no family and only scant romantic involvements with men who were unfaithful (Greg Wise) or for whom she never seemed to find enough time (Stanley Tucci). Her few friends (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Amanda Drew) worried dearly about her. And even her editor, Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander), who stalwartly supported her efforts, had doubts at times about her judgment when it came to the approaches she took to her assignments. These concerns became particularly troubling through Marie’s steadily increasing drinking, placing her on the precipice of becoming an alcoholic, and a bout of PTSD that she suffered after her stint in Iraq and landed her in a special treatment facility.

London Times war correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike, left), accompanied by photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan, right), endeavors to get stories from the frontlines in such hotspots as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, as seen in the intense new film biography, “A Private War.” Photo courtesy of Aviron Pictures.

Still, despite these pitfalls, Colvin would not back off. Over time she came to recognize that she was personally torn about her calling. She abhorred the misery and strife of war zones, yet she also couldn’t keep herself away from them. As long as there were those who were suffering, she felt compelled to bring their stories to light for the world to see. This became, as the film’s title suggests, her own “private war,” one that was chronicled in a Vanity Fair magazine article that inspired this picture.

Those who have never worked as journalists may find such compulsive attitudes difficult to fathom. However, having once worked in the field myself (though admittedly not on a scale anywhere near that of the protagonist), I understand what it means to feel drawn to uncovering the truth of a story and to make it known to an awaiting audience. When the stakes are especially high, as they were in the conflicts Colvin covered, the need to fulfill that mission becomes particularly strong, no matter what it takes to get it done. Were it not for intrepid reporters like her, stories like this might not otherwise see the light of day.

With occasional companion Tony Shaw (Stanley Tucci, left), London Times war correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike, right) accepts one of many honors she received during her prestigious career as seen in “A Private War.” Photo by Paul Conroy, courtesy of Aviron Pictures.

Although at times a little weak on back story, this otherwise-gripping biopic about the protagonist’s dogged determination to get the story sizzles with bold intensity, especially in its uncompromising depictions of the horrors she witnessed firsthand and in the personal toll such events took on her physically and emotionally. Pike’s stellar performance is certainly award-worthy, showing the many sides of a complex character who frequently straddled the line between bravery and recklessness. Be forewarned, however, that the graphic nature of this offering makes it a questionable choice for sensitive and squeamish viewers. But, for those who like their heroic tales larger than life and rooted in truth, this one is definitely for you.

Like another recent release about the lives of war correspondents, “Viper Club”, this film poignantly reveals the sacrifices these individuals are willing to make and the risks they’re willing to take in making sure the truth is known. Some might see them as brave, gallant souls, while others may view them as foolhardy and careless. Nevertheless, no matter how they’re viewed, what they accomplish in the end is what’s most important, efforts for which they deserve every recognition possible. Were it not for this kind of determination, as well as the compassion that goes along with it, we might all be kept in a darkness that would ultimately be even more frightening than any of the atrocities exposed. 

A complete review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

Ever challenged for her credentials when present in war zones, London Times correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) faces incessant uncertainty when seeking to get the story in “A Private War.” Photo by Keith Bernstein, courtesy of Aviron Pictures.

Awakening to the Truth

What are we to do when the reality of our self doesn’t match the image we hold – or that we believe we’re supposed to hold – of it? The frustration such circumstances engender can be maddening, perhaps threatening our prevailing worldview and causing us considerable anguish. That’s especially true when we’re pressured by others to conform to certain standards of behavior and outlooks on life that we know don’t suit who we truly are. So how do we reconcile such a conundrum? That’s what a troubled teen is forced to deal with in the new, fact-based drama, “Boy Erased” (web site, trailer).

By all accounts, Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is a fine, upstanding young man. As a star basketball player and an accomplished student getting ready to head off to college, Jared is the pride of his loving parents, Nancy (Nicole Kidman), a traditional homemaker, and Marshall (Russell Crowe), the owner of a car dealership and preacher at the local Baptist church. Outwardly, Jared lives up to all of the expectations placed upon him, embodying a model Christian youth who’s supposed to set a shining example for his peers. He loves his parents and his faith, and he seems ready to follow a traditional courtship path with his high school sweetheart, Chloe (Madelyn Cline). There’s just one problem – Jared suspects he’s gay, and it troubles him deeply, afraid that such “unnatural” feelings will disappoint his parents, his God and himself.

Troubled teen Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges, left) confesses his concern that he might be gay to his Baptist fundamentalist parents, Marshall (Russell Crowe, center) and Nancy (Nicole Kidman, right), in director Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Jared tries desperately to squelch his thoughts for a long time, but, no matter how earnestly he does so, there’s no denying the persistence of such notions. Finally, while on a break home from college, he decides to confess his feelings to his parents, despite having never overtly acted on them. Needless to say, Nancy and Marshall are both quietly distressed, but, rather than fly into a tirade, mom and dad calmly and “rationally” seek to come up with a solution. And, after consultation with a pair of “learned” peers from the congregation, Marshall and Nancy offer a proposal to their son – enrollment in a church-sponsored “conversion therapy program” to help set him straight, literally (or so they believe).

Jared’s parents tell him that they still love him, despite his wayward “flaw.” However, they also make it plain that, if he hopes to remain under their roof and in their lives, he must comply with their wishes. They insist that he must rid himself of the “sin” that so blatantly and offensively goes against the tenets of their faith and that would almost assuredly cast aspersions on them by members of the congregation of their Arkansas parish. Should he refuse this, he would need to find new accommodations for himself and risk not seeing either of them again. So, to avoid such an unthinkable outcome, Jared agrees to their terms, expressing what appears to be a sincere desire to change and to return to the path that he has long known and from which he has strayed. He freely embarks on this journey, but it’s a sojourn that turns out to be nothing like what he expected.

Before long, Jared begins attendance at his “therapy” sessions, a program led by a “counselor,” Pastor Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton). Jared’s regimen consists of a hodgepodge of Christian fundamentalism and psychological mumbo jumbo, mixed with coercive reinforcement of archaic gender-based stereotypes, and, when deemed necessary, corporal and emotional punishment. And those in the program who don’t comply with the counselor’s dictates are subject to guilt-driven ostracism and/or strong-arm tactics implemented by his creepy, bleary-eyed goon squad (Victor McCay, David Joseph Craig, Flea).

Conversion therapy counselor Pastor Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) attempts to use a mixture of Christian fundamentalism and other tactics to set his gay program participants straight – literally – in the new fact-based drama, “Boy Erased.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

As sincere as Jared is when he first enters the program, he’s not sure what to make of it the longer he’s in it. He’s conflicted by the various reactions he encounters from other participants, unsure of how to respond to the dogmatic teachings and questionable homework assignments he’s given. He’s troubled by the quiescent reactions of Sarah (Jesse LaTourette) and Cameron (Britton Sear), both of whom capitulate seemingly against their wishes, to avoid punishment and persecution, the kind routinely inflicted upon those who are prime targets for the psychological and physical bullying doled out by Sykes and his staff. By contrast, there’s Jon (Xavier Dolan), a long-term program participant who lives in special on-site housing and willingly (though unconvincingly) professes to buy into everything that he’s been taught. And then there’s Gary (Troye Sivan), a participant who outwardly appears to go along with the program’s attempted brainwashing but who secretly has no intention of doing so; he fakes everything to get by, advice he readily shares with Jared, whom, because of his intensely honest nature, Gary suspects is genuinely incapable of drinking the counselor’s Kool Aid.

Jared’s doubts about his prospects of success get further put to the test when he’s assigned to take inventory of his feelings toward men. Through a series of flashbacks, Jared considers his memories of and emotions about the “involvements” (comparatively innocent though they were) that he’d had with other members of his gender. There’s his college friend Henry (Joe Alwyn), a closeted young man who tries to deny his impulses (and his feelings toward Jared) but who ultimately can’t stifle the intensity of his smoldering passion. Then, by contrast, there’s Xavier (Théodore Pellerin), an artist with an honest and open attitude toward his feelings for Jared but who also takes a decidedly unpressured approach in making them known. As Jared muses about these encounters, he takes stock of his feelings, an assessment that leads to more uncertainty about his leanings – and his future.

Concerned mother Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman, back to camera and right) tries to console her troubled son, Jared (Lucas Hedges, center), after he makes a disturbing revelation in the new fact-based family drama, “Boy Erased.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

How will all of this play out for Jared? What impact will it have on his relationship with his family? And what path will he follow going forward? That’s what he must address – and reconcile – for himself as he decides what best suits him for his future.

Jared’s experience is a prime example of what it means to come to terms with oneself, despite the expectations placed on us. He’s clear about what he thinks he’s supposed to believe, but that’s not the same as what his true self actually does believe. Consequently, he attempts to deny those feelings that don’t fit, but this proves to be a futile effort. To disavow such thoughts is to disavow a part of himself, one that ultimately won’t be denied.

As anyone who has ever gone through psychological counseling knows, becoming aware of such previously obscured motivations is part of the treatment process. To be able to succeed at this is revelatory and often a source of great joy, satisfaction and fulfillment. It’s a case of living up to who we really are as authentic beings. And, in a world often rife with denial, hypocrisy and artifice, this is generally a refreshing change for how we live our lives, no matter what they might entail.

Concerned parents Nancy (Nicole Kidman, left) and Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe, right) discuss how to help their troubled son resolve a personal crisis in director Joel Edgerton’s latest offering, “Boy Erased.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

This is the process that Jared is just beginning to go through, his sexuality being the prime area of initial exploration. However, once he has an awakening experience such as this, it opens doors for him in a wide array of areas, all of which are aimed at helping him discover, acknowledge and validate the nature of his true self. It’s something that we’re all capable of experiencing, be it in our sexual orientation or any other field of endeavor. What matters most, though, is that we earnestly make the effort to engage in this process, no matter what area of exploration is opened up for inspection.

One might wonder why Jared has chosen such a difficult path in making his way toward his eventual happiness, and that question indeed has merit. But perhaps his path ultimately has to do with more than just his self-acceptance. Maybe it also involves a larger issue, such as going through the conversion therapy process to be able to later expose it for the sham that it is, to reveal the fallacies of its principles and the false hope it holds out to those who shell out vast sums of money for a misguided and cruel program that frequently does more harm than good.

Making the public aware of scams like this truly a noble cause, one reflective of the destiny that we’re meant to live out in life, the quest with which we marshal our energies to bring about a particular, and frequently necessary, outcome that benefits many in society. By drawing attention to our experiences, as Jared does so effectively through his, we can alert others to the perils of shady undertakings like these. And that is quite a laudable undertaking, to be sure.

Conversion therapy program participant Gary (Troye Sivan) has his own way of dealing with the dogmatic rhetoric being thrust upon him and his peers in “Boy Erased.” Photo by Kyle Kaplan, courtesy of Focus Features.

That, in many ways, is the very point of this picture as well. Filmmaker Joel Edgerton’s second time behind the director’s chair on a feature-length release makes the world abundantly aware of the pitfalls of conversion therapy, alerting viewers to such matters as the fact that there are currently 36 states that have no legal bans against these programs. In bringing this production to life, Edgerton and his crew are living out such a noble destiny, one that would assuredly make the film’s protagonist proud.

Thankfully, “Boy Erased” effectively skewers the sham of conversion therapy without becoming shrill, resorting to clichés or getting tied up in over-the-top rhetoric. With fine performances by Hedges, Crowe, Kidman and Edgerton, as well as a superbly written script, the film delivers a solid, well-told story, full of empathy, sincerity and heart. The pacing in the first 30 minutes could be a little swifter, but that minor shortcoming detracts little from this finely made offering. This strong awards season contender is sure to give many other laudable releases a run for their money.

The journey to find our true selves may not be an easy one. There could be plenty of challenges, difficulties and disappointments along the way. But, if we earnestly seek to discover the nature of what really makes us who we are, we can live out an existence in line with such notions, one fully fleshed out in all the ways that we find enjoyable and fulfilling. And, should we succeed at that, we need never worry about our lives or our very being ever being erased.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Teen Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges, right) tentatively explores his emerging gay sensibility with a caring, sensitive artist, Xavier (Théodore Pellerin, left), in director Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

Back on Air This Week!

Join host Frankie Picasso and me for the next edition of Movies with Meaning on The Good Media Network’s Frankiesense & More broadcast this Thursday, November 29, at 1 pm ET. We’ll discuss a number of new movie releases, as well as preview some of this awards season’s contending offerings. For the video version, tune in on Facebook Live by clicking here. And, for the audio only podcast edition, check out The Good Media Network’s home page by clicking here. Join us for some fun movie chat! 

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.