Under the Wire Review: The Perils of Reporting on Conflict

In 2018, the targeted killing and imprisonment of journalists reached its global peak in 10 years. From repression by autocratic regimes to assassinations linked to organized crime, journalists have faced untold risks as they attempt to report the truth. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Syrian Civil War, in which a reported 126 journalists, both local and international, have been killed attempting to report on the conflict.

Under the Wire brings home the real, human cost to journalists taking these risks, while also forcing the audience to once again to draw our eyes to the humanitarian catastrophe that is the Syrian Civil War. The film succeeds by showing the realities of reporting on conflict zones without romanticizing them, all while emphasizing the necessity of the work journalists do to tell the stories of the people most affected by conflict.

Under the Wire is first and foremost a personal story. It memorializes the legendary war journalist Marie Colvin, whose life was recently featured in the separate 2018 biographical drama A Private War. Centering on her working relationship and friendship with British photographer Paul Conroy, the film covers approximately two weeks that Colvin was reporting from Homs in 2012, during the assault by government forces on the rebel-held neighborhood of Baba Amr. It was an assignment that would cost Marie Colvin and French journalist Rémi Ochlik their lives in a targeted shelling attack, in what recently was decided in U.S. courts to be an “extrajudicial killing” directed by the Syrian government  — the first time that Assad regime has been held directly accountable in courts for a war crime.

While Colvin’s bravery, commitment to the truth, and impact on the lives of journalists such as Paul Conroy shines through the film, the documentary succeeds most when it focuses on the Syrian people themselves. It does so by showing the children who die for lack of medical equipment, the images of bereaved families within the “Widow’s Basement” huddle against the shelling of the Syrian army, and the kindness and selflessness of Syrians such as translator Wa’el and Dr. Mohammed Mohammed, who put their lives on the line to save the lives of Western journalists whom they barely knew. By forcing the audience to once again realize the humanity of the victims of the conflict, the film reframes the Syrian War once more as a fundamentally humanitarian catastrophe, in which the people who are most affected by the war are not faceless victims and refugees but are individuals who possess their own humanity and dignity.

There is great humanity in this film. It does credit to Conroy and the Under the Wire film team’s declared goal: to show the world the story of the Syrian people. By the end of Under the Wire, the audience is left with little doubt as to the courage of journalists such as Marie Colvin, or the necessity of risking danger—and ultimately their lives—to show the world what has occurred. But after eight years of ongoing conflict, and eight years of courageous reporting by Western and local journalists alike, the world has no choice but to acknowledge what is happening on in Syria. Yet the war continues.

For the audience of Under the Wire, this is the truth with which we must grapple. The work that Marie Colvin, and others like her, did and continue to do rests on the commitment of the rest of the world—governments and the public alike—to take action to end the continuation of the atrocities that have been shown to us by journalists such as Marie Colvin and Paul Conroy. There are great perils to reporting on conflict, but the greater peril is when we see the images and stories presented to us—and decide to look away.

Image Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, CC BY 2.0