Civil War

Verdict: Alex Garland's movie is an unflinching and intense depiction of war, with excellent performances from Kirsten Dunst and Cailee Spaeny

  • Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny, Wagner Moura, Nick Offerman
  • April 9th 2024
  • Alex Garland

Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura and Cailee Spaeny play photojournalists on the frontline of the Civil War in the U.S.

Alex Garland’s latest film Civil War imagines a dystopian near future where California and Texas have seceded from the United States of America.

It is told through the eyes of military-embedded photojournalists Lee (Kirsten Dunst), Joel (Wagner Moura), Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) and Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), who travel from New York to Washington D.C. to reach the White House before the Western Forces.

Garland gives us very little context about the situation we are thrusted into. There is some information at the start but it’s covered too quickly and never brought up again. On the one hand, this ambiguity makes the film more universal and makes it easier to envision this happening in real life. But on the other, it feels hollow and lacking in substance without an explanation to ground the action.

Wherever you stand on the context situation, you will still be able to appreciate the look and sound of this film. Garland has crafted an epic anti-war spectacle. It is bleak, unflinching and very intense, particularly in the climactic sequence in Washington D.C. He really places you in the shoes of the photojournalists and immerses you in the warfare through the visuals and the sound design.

Civil War rightfully spotlights the bravery of photojournalists, who risk their lives to bear witness to the atrocities on the frontline. Through the contrast between Lee and Jessie, you can see how the job has impacted them. The experienced Lee is a sombre, hardened women who is able to remain detached and desensitised in the face of brutal violence, while newcomer Jessie is too emotional.

The core four are all excellent and bring different personalities to the mix. However, the standout performer is Dunst’s real-life husband Jesse Plemons as a trigger-happy soldier they encounter on their journey. He is unhinged and dangerous and his short but pivotal scene is the most anxiety-inducing and memorable.

Although the narrative isn’t perfect, Civil War presents a situation that feels scarily realistic. Lets hope it serves as a warning!

In cinemas from Friday 12th April.

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