Film Review: “Civil War”


  • Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura
  • Directed by: Alex Garland
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins
  • A24


In a time when America is more divided politically since before the 20th century, the near dystopian future of “Civil War” seems like an all too scary proposition of a possible reality. However, the film’s brilliance is derived from largely staying away from the weeds of political discourse and instead focuses on the impact the story’s bloody conflict has on the people – specifically the journalists who try to cover it. With brilliant cinematography, “Civil War” captures the horrors of war through a rarely used perspective. A perspective that is shown in a profound way by talented cast headlined by a standout performance by Kirsten Dunst.


Like Morpheus from “The Matrix,” who tells us they know little about mankind’s fall, we only get to know scant pieces of information why America has become engulfed by a civil war. What we do know is that the dictator-like, third term President of the United States (Nick Offerman) started America’s downfall with a series of actions, few of which we are privy to, but one does stand out – launching air strikes against American civilians.


Legendary war photojournalist Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and her colleague, Joel (Wagner Moura, “The Gray Man”) are determined to drive to D.C. to interview the president, although it’s clear that Lee has become exhausted by covering the worst of humanity. They are warned of the dangers of doing so by Sammy (Kansas City, Missouri native Stephen McKinley Henderson, “Dune: Part One,” “Fences”), a longtime journalist with “The New York Times”. Lee and Joel do not heed his advice, but they end up complicating their journey further by allowing Sammy to join them for a ride to the front lines as well as a young, aspiring photojournalist named Jessie (Springfield, Missouri native Cailee Spaeny, “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” “Priscilla”), who happens to be from Missouri.


During their several hundred-mile journey, the quartet encounters several scenes of carnage during which Jessie earns her red badge of carnage, in a manner of speaking. Ultimately, it is through their eyes and lenses that we see America’s second civil war in both haunting black-and-white and bloody color images. It’s a unique perspective and a bold one as writer/director Alex Garland, who also wrote 2014’s brilliant “Ex Machina” and 2002’s “28 Days Later,” stayed away from making political stances that could have enraged one side or the other in society and instead chose to focus on the depravity that humanity is sometimes capable of.


Dunst is tremendous as her feelings of exhaustion are tangible just by the thousand mile look in her eyes. Moura is a nice counterpart to her as he demonstrates a solid handle on a wide range of emotions, especially those that are more visceral. And Spaeny shows that she is an up-and-coming star who is going to be gracing the silver screen for a long time to come. Lastly, it should be noted, to tamper the enthusiasm of his fans, that Offerman is barely in the film despite the prominence of his name. He is more heard than seen to put it in simple terms.


Overall, “Civil War” is one film not to be missed.


“Civil War” receives ★★ out of five.


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