Civil War Review

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Rating: 4.5/5

Synopsis:

Alex Garland returns after his last film divided fans. He presents another story that may appear to be a divisive subject, but really wants to show us a mirror of ourselves. “Civil War” presents us with a scenario that is grim and realistic. A civil war has broken out as growing political tensions have gotten out of control. The United States President has abandoned the FBI, sought a third term, and attempts to counter political revolution against the Western Forces of Texas and California. A group of journalists commit to a journey across the country to interview the President and question his actions. But as they do, they are forced to travel through an America that is divided and engulfed in violence. Will these journalists reach the President alive? Or be killed in the crossfire?

Positives:

My main concern with “Civil War” was that it was going to be a piece of political hack, pointing fingers and fanning the flames of division. Director Alex Garland is known for exploring big ideas and making films that are thought provoking. I’m happy to say that “Civil War” is anything but divisive. In fact, I would argue that the way the story is presented welcomes those of all political ideologies. The idea is to take a moment to reflect on the America presented in the film. Many of the characters our journalists encounter are left intentionally vague. We are not meant to understand their backgrounds or take sides with any of them. Instead, we’re asked to examine these tense interactions with self reflection. Who are we currently as a nation? How do our current divisions mirror the ones in the film? Could we see this happening to us if we are not careful? These are a few of the many questions Garland presents us with. No one is demonized and he doesn’t ask us to take a side. He asks us if our current climate will get to this point and if we are capable of coming to the table and hearing each other out. I very much appreciate that Garland welcomes everyone to examine the film from their own perspective. People of all backgrounds will be able to take something away from the film. 

The film is also made with exceptional craft. It has been marketed as an IMAX experience with large scale action scenes and a conflict that is worthy of a premium format. This wouldn’t be possible without someone like Garland’s skillset. The most impressive technical aspect of the film is the sound design. Each shot of the fast paced action sequences are presented in a visceral and immersive way. I can’t remember the last time I heard gunshots and explosions that sounded so realistic. The violence in the film isn’t explotative either. It helps us understand the ugliness of the war that is taking place. Although the film acts as an action spectacle in the third act, Garland maintains his signature indy style story structure. Most of the film is presented from the perspective of the journalists. It almost feels like a dystopian road trip film where they encounter different groups of extremists and participants in the war. The film also has a number of beautiful looking sequences. Whether is be presenting the aftermath of battles taken place or a fire ridden forest with embers in the air, the cinematography and technical elements here are top notch. 

I can’t forget the performances either. Kirsten Dunst gives a very powerful performance as Lee, a veteran journalist who has become calliced over the years of photographing such ugly events. Her performance is restrained yet effective, providing insight and guidance to the young Jessie throughout the film. Jessie also matches Lee’s energy with a nice performance from Cailee Spaeny. Wagner Moura is believable as the adrenaline junky Joel, who feeds on the chaos and opportunity to get a good shot of the action. Stephen McKinley Henderson is also great as the veteran journalist, Sammy. Nick Offerman is hardly in the film at all but his moments as the President are effective. But the most intense performance of the bunch was from Jesse Plemons. He is scary good in his small role. His exchange with our leads was one of the most tense scenes I’ve experienced from a movie in quite some time. Even the journalists in the film aren’t presented as squeaky clean. On one hand their work to capture these horrific events and keep the public informed is admirable, but their actions are also presented with some grey area. They are asked to reflect on what it means to photograph such horrific events. They are often bystanders to events that they could be helpful in, sacrificing moral clarity for a “winning shot” of the action. Their ambiguity and morals are presented in a way that showcases their importance but questions their resolve. Good performances help relay such a complicated character study.

Negatives:

The main aspect that I found myself going back andd fourth on is the lack of detail offered. We are given very little information on the premise of the war, who is fighting who, how long it’s been going on, and what side of the aisle the president is on. Many are frustrated at the lack of clarity but I think this made the story more interesting. We are left to search for clues and interpret events are we see fit. Each individual viewer may leave the film with a different impression. Some have fired back at Garland for not taking a side in the matter. It would be so easy to point the finger and accuse one perspective of being wrong. But that would go against the ideas Garland is highlighting in the film. It doesn’t matter what “side” someone is on. He wants us to understand is that a civil war of this magnitude would hurt people of all ideaologies and make us weaker as a country. The lack of clarity may frustrate some but I think it makes the film stronger. 

Conclusion: 

Alex Garland has another winner in “Civil War”. The film is incredibly thoughtful, presenting a situation that isn’t ideal for any American. No sides are taken and no lines are drawn. The film welcomes those of every background to examine the events with an initimate view of the chaos. Performances all around are excellent and the technal elements really immerse viewers in the story. I highly recommend “Civil War” and encourage viewers to go in with an open mind. It’s a good opportunity for reflection on the scary possibility of such an event.