Civil War Film Review Reviewed by Trish Connelly

From the mind behind Ex Machina, Annihilation and Men, Alex Garland is a master at creating his own fleshed out worlds. The London director continues to stake his claim and expand upon it in this year’s highly anticipated action/drama, Civil War. Taking place in a (not so distant) dystopian America, the film stars Kirsten Dunst and Wagner Moura as Lee and Joel, two war correspondents that intend to stop at nothing to document the ongoing war across the states and into the Capitol. Traversing across the landscape with veteran Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), the three also (reluctantly) adopt a young though aspiring photographer Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) at the start of their trip. Civil War is shot through the eyes of the photojournalists, seemingly objective and detached from taking political sides, yet considering the sensationalism of the media in today’s world, claiming an “objective” stance as a photojournalist seems counterintuitive. 



Garland has an extremely keen eye for cinematography as well as instilling impeccable sound design into Civil War. The quick transitions between rifles firing and bombs detonating with the millisecond snap of the camera shutter leaves the viewer in a near palpable state of hearing loss in scenes of the war’s chaotic wake. Pausing on Lee’s and Jessie’s shots depict the constant devastation and loss that surrounds them day in and day out, yet with a certain beauty as Jessie’s shots are in black and white. 


Though as visceral and anxiety-inducing the film succeeds in being, there is something left to be desired after digging past the surface. Kirsten Dunst’s character is extraordinary, with her deep-seated exhaustion living in the contours of her face, portraying a hardened exterior yet still there live embers of emotional resonance within her soul. However, most other characters are introduced to the briefest degree, or play out in stereotypical form, as in the case of burgeoning and over eager photojournalist Jessie. Considering the savage scope of the terrain, it’s difficult to believe most of these characters are still living and breathing rather than meeting their fate half a dozen times. Garland attempts to portray the various perspectives of small town folk who prefer to ignore what’s happening outside their immediate surroundings, individuals who have decided the fate of others according to their own rules (as shown in a harrowing scene starring Jesse Plemons), but it’s difficult to sink one’s teeth into anything of substance with so many various and fleeting ideas inflicted throughout the film. 


The experience of watching Civil War brought me back to 2002’s 28 Days Later, one of Garland’s earliest films showcasing another dystopian road movie involving zombies, with its underlying message being that other fellow humans may be our biggest cause for danger and concern. Perhaps my love for Garland’s general enrapturing and psychological pull he triumphantly pulls off in his full length features (as well as his sci-fi miniseries for Devs) ultimately left me disappointed that his latest left very little in that realm to reflect on. The message that, once again, our humanity is our biggest oppressor rings true, but in a most matter-of-fact form. If it’s an action packed drama that will leave you clasping your armchair throughout the film’s entirety you’re looking for, might I recommend Civil War, but if you’re looking for material to mull over, you might want to give your mind a break with this one. 

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