"Civil War" Film Review

Civil War (2024) - IMDb

Civil War

Rating: 4.5/5

By: Nathaniel Simpson

    Alex Garland has written and directed some big movies over the past twenty years, such as 28 Days Later, Ex Machina, and Annihilation. His newest directorial effort, which is titled Civil War follows in the same direction as some of his previous films, providing a warning for the viewers of what could happen if society keeps going the way it has been. I don't think any of his films have been more obvious or compelling as this newest one though, which shows the traumatic outbreak of a full-blown civil war in America. Throughout the movie, he presents not only how destructive us as a society can be, but really hit the nail on the head by showing how different people perceive war. I think Garland and his cast, which includes Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, and Stephen McKinley Henderson, does a fantastic job of presenting this gripping film that serves as a warning to its viewers as what this nation could come to one day. 

    The picture follows Dunst's Lee Smith, who is a world-renowned photo-journalist who has spent most to her career capturing wars and how they affect the country. Because of this, she has become desensitized to the gruesome acts and effects of war, and is disappointed that America has got to the point of a full-blown civil war. Alongside her partners Joel (Moura) and Sammy (McKinley Henderson), she plans on going to Washington D.C., and sneak their way in so they can interview the President (Nick Offerman) before the the rebel forces reach the White House. 

    However, what Lee doesn't expect is for youngster Jessie (Spaeny) to tag along, hoping to start her career photographing this war so she can be like Lee, who is one of her idols. They travel from New York to the nation's capital, encountering multiple disturbing and deadly scenes to be able to interview the President. Not only do we watch our main characters have to deal with these scenarios, Garland is able to make the viewer feel terrified and on the edge of their seat, like they are in the car with the group of journalists. 

    Garland was born and raised in London, and he is more of an outsider looking into the nation of America. Because of this, he is really able to paint this picture of America and its citizens that perhaps even Americans can't realize. As a resident of this country, it feels like every time we wake up, there is something going on in this country or another death that could have been avoided. Unfortunately, it feels like we have just gotten use to this and we think it's a normal occurrence of everyday life. Garland is looking at this and presents on the screen how bad our country has become, and how it could one day lead to a full blown war or uprising. 

    Consider the scene where the group of main characters are being shot at by a sniper in a mansion. They take cover and find a duo of snipers camouflaged to blend into the grass. They are shooting at the sniper in the mansion, even though they have no idea who he is and what side he is on. Hell, the snipers in the grass have no idea what side they are on; they're just shooting at the other sniper for the hell of it. This very laid-back and careless attitude is presented throughout the first half of the film. There is even a segment where we literally see people shot and killed at point blank intercut with hip-hop music and the main characters laughing and acting like they are just hanging out on a normal day. Garland is showing how people, Americans in particular, treat war and violence like a normal pastime. This is due to the desensitization from the access to much more graphic content in the world and how there is this common view of war and violence. 

    It's not until the midpoint of the film, where the group is stopped by Jesse Plemons' military character that the film takes a real shift. They are threatened and have a real possibility of being executed for no reason, and it terrifies them to their core. They then change their demeanor and feelings about war and the violence they have experienced. While some become even more desensitized by it and show how you can't really trust or get close to anyone, some feel the exact opposite of how they were in the beginning. They realize how bad all of this is, and how it has affected their lives in this profession. This shift from the first part of the film to the second is fantastic, and Garland presents some amazing character growth and development. He really knows how to tell such a complex story, and take care of his characters throughout the film.     

    The four main actors in this film are fantastic, and really do a great job of fleshing out their characters more and more throughout the runtime. Each scene they are in shows their character and how more of their development is fleshed out. At the same time, minor characters, such as Offerman's and Plemons', leave such an impact on the film as a whole that you think a lot about their characters and the performances when you walk out of the theater. 

    At the same time, the cinematography and the battle sequences are excellent. I saw someone say that the war sequences are perhaps some of the best ever put on film, and I honestly can agree with that. It shows these complex and intricate war battles, and there is so much going on at once that you can only focus on one aspect per viewing. At the same time, DOP Rob Hardy is able to capture so many beautifully haunting shots, as well as using photographs to move the story along. 

    While the film does have some pacing issues throughout and some scenes go on way too long, there is no doubt that Garland has crafted a brilliant film that warns viewers with its social commentary. The performances here are amazing and really help make this film as powerful as it is. The final scene, especially the final shot, is so hauntingly beautiful and really does its job of showing the breakdown of one's mental state due to the effects of war. It's unfortunate Garland said he is stepping away from directing as he definitely has an artistic voice that needs to be heard right now.