Civil War (2024)

by | Apr 10, 2024 | Movie Reviews, New In Theaters | 0 comments

Civil War is an unflinching and unapologetic look at human nature and how the lines of politics and morals become blurred when people are left to fend for their own survival. I have zero doubts that this will be the most divisive film of 2024 for a plethora of reasons, most surrounding the fact that it’s uncomfortable to watch and might strike too close to home for American audiences. In a country that’s already fueled by political strife and on the verge of a controversial election, Civil War comes at a very tense time for the nation and doesn’t offer much by the way of comfort. It’s brutally honest in how it depicts humans and the collapse of society, so be warned because the violence and horror is not for the faint of heart.

Civil War

Months after the collapse of the United States, multiple factions have risen up across the nation in retaliation of the U.S. government. War photographer Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and her journalist friend Joel (Wagner Moura) are making their way to Washington D.C to witness the siege of the White House and document the conflicts along the way. Along the journey they pick up a rival veteran journalist Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and young photographer Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), who’s never captured footage and horror like what they’re going to experience. As members of the press, they find themselves up close in the line of fire and find the lines of politics and survival fractured by the different groups of American’s that they encounter.

Alex Garland has steadily built an incredible career built on thought-provoking narratives and a keen eye for showcasing beauty and horror in perfect harmony. Making the move from science fiction back to intense drama and action, Garland details a future not too far from our own that certainly feels influenced by the divide we feel in our country today. His use of sound remains sensational as he practically places you in the warzone and nearly shellshocks the audiences with the unrelenting sounds of gunfire and terror. Garland also uses sound as a diversion for the mind to help the audience process some of the grizzly images we’re being shown, even going as far to use peculiar music to disarm our mind and senses. It’s always odd as an American to see warfare on our own soil, especially in big cities because we’re fortunate enough to have never had to witness something like that in real life. For me personally, many of the images in the film evoked memories of Seattle’s CHAZ/CHOP situation that saw citizens take over a portion of Seattle as their own territory and forced out government and state authorities. What resulted was a mixed bag of peaceful communes and those who leveraged the situation for selfish and violent gains. Conflicts and clashes built to the eventual siege of a police station and by the end of the whole 24 Day saga two people had lost their lives with many other people and businesses left severely damaged as well.

Civil War

At no point is Civil War an entertaining watch, however it feels like an incredibly crucial watch if only to serve as a massive warning for the people of this country. While some have picked this film apart for taking an apolitical stance to the fictional situation at hand, I personally felt like it added to the narrative as a tool to show just how disassociated from traditional left and right politics this country has become. The idea that people can only subscribe to two political beliefs has been challenged more than ever today and what we’re seeing is people reveal what they truly believe and people who are trying to stay entirely out of everything as the political landscapes change. At the end of the day this is a nation comprised of people who take their rights and opinions more seriously than most and you can clearly see that on the news or any online forum as people spit vitriol at one another for not sharing the same thoughts.

Choosing war photographers/journalists to be our eye for this film puts the audience on the front line and in the middle of all the danger people may face out there. It’s baffling, concerning, and terrifying to watch members of the press following closely behind soldiers or combatants who are in the middle of a massive firefight. It’s just as alarming to watch members of the press interact with smalltown militia who essentially run portions of towns across different states. There’s an importance to showing the world what’s happening behind the scenes, but the cost it comes at is far more than just journalists risking their lives. This kind of work immerses people in some of the most sinister and frightening situations where you see humanity stripped away and witness evil in its most human forms.

It’s fascinating to watch these journalists follow members of the factions opposing the U.S. government and learning how different groups view what’s happening within the country. As has been the case in the past, the journalists remain neutral and report only what they see, leaving those that witness their work to ask the difficult questions about morality and what’s going on. This makes for a challenging dynamic because it seems nearly impossible not to have strong opinions about what they’re witnessing, however you can also understand that taking the time to feel those strong emotions can severely risk your safety when you’re in the middle of conflict. To survive in the time of war requires incredible personal sacrifice and an ability to move forward without being paralyzed by the fear of what’s going on around you. I can’t imagine balancing those emotions and survival instincts and that’s an area the film handles incredibly well, no matter how tough the situation may be.

Civil War

Anchored by a core of four outstanding performances, Civil War cleverly weaves the different journalists’ personalities and backgrounds into the chaos that surrounds them. Kirsten Dunst’s Lee is clearly battle hardened after years of being embedded on the front lines of foreign wars, but this war at home clearly starts to affect her psyche as she witnesses atrocities of all sorts. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Spaeny’s young Jessie, who starts off shellshocked by the horror of human nature and gradually becomes immune to the fear as she continually risks her life to get closer to the action. Encouraging some of Spaeny’s seemingly reckless behavior is Wagner Moura’s Joel, who has a hankering for battle and thrives on being in high-risk situations. His eagerness to find firefighting is as frightening as it is revealing about who he really is underneath his press badge. Stephen Henderson’s Sammy is our most sensible journalist, still dedicated to covering what’s happening but not foolish enough to want to risk his safety or the safety of those around him. Putting these four journalists in a pressure-cooker situation creates tension like you wouldn’t believe and their observations on their journey reveal more and more about how humans really behave. Then there’s Jesse Plemons, who shows up for the most terrifying 5 minutes of the film, but I won’t spoil anything else about his completely captivating performance.

Civil War chooses not to get bogged down in the conflicts that led to the collapse of the United States, but instead moves past politics and sends a dire message to people about the evil of human nature and the need to work to heal the problems that plague our nation. By not taking sides the film has caused issues for some because it doesn’t shy away from showing traditionally liberal AND conservative people taking lives and adding to the violence at hand. While it may be an unpleasant reality, there are many on both sides of the aisle who seek to solve problems through extreme actions, words, and even violence. The not too dystopian future that Garland envisions for the U.S. is predicated on our country failing to address the needs of its citizens and shows the basis of our politics crumbling as party lines grow more divided as people find themselves unable to commit completely to one ideology or the other. We need to be good to one another and we need to realize that the current state of politics in our country continues to worsen the strength and integrity of the United States. Only together can we make actionable change that makes a difference, otherwise we know all too well what happens to people when there is no aid and survival instincts are all we’re left with.

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