Civil War | Review by: Benjamin Garrett


Civil War throws audiences into the midst of a violent fictional conflict in America, but this is not a war movie. It has no political agenda. It isn’t interested in answering how or why. This is a film that boldly showcases the horrors of war, and the vital role journalists play in bringing the frontlines to the public eye. 

I understand the polarizing divisiveness this film has garnered, especially from American audiences. Alex Garland is a British filmmaker. A large part of Civil War serves as an exaggerated version of how an outsider views the tense political landscape in the United States over the past eight or so years. Is it ludicrous to think that Texas and California would join forces, leading to the country going to war with itself? Sure, but that’s not the point Garland is making. He intentionally keeps the details vague and doesn’t take a political stance. The conflict is merely a backdrop, in a setting that’ll be all too familiar for many viewers.

Garland doesn’t hold back in depicting the horrific imagery war journalists are frequently exposed to. There are several exceptionally composed frames throughout the film that sent chills down my spine. I smirked when I saw “Go Steelers” graffitied on a highway overpass, but the smirk quickly disappeared as my eyes darted lower in the frame, to see two corpses hanging from that overpass. The juxtaposition of ordinary life against the terrors of war is immensely powerful. The brilliant sound design adds another layer of immersion, ratcheting up the tension even higher. The loud pops of sudden gunfire had me in a constant state of unease, never knowing if the characters were safe or in danger. 

This is A24’s most expensive film yet, with a production budget of around 50 million. Every penny was well spent in the way the film captures what a US civil war might look like. There are a handful of incredibly orchestrated action sequences. They aren’t designed to excite, though. Instead, they give audiences a look at places they may take for granted in every day life, transformed into a blood soaked war zone. We’re so desensitized to seeing foreign countries ravaged by war in film and television. Civil War brings the destruction home, and will surely ruffle a few feathers by doing so. 

Kirsten Dunst gives a harrowing performance as a journalist who’s seen a lifetime of horrors. Her hollow, often lifeless stare captures a kind of indifferent weariness she’s collected through years in the field. this contrasts nicely against the other journalists, especially Cailee Spaeny’s character, who’s at the very beginning of her career. The naivety of a fresh pair of eyes next to someone hardened by decades of experience makes an intriguing dynamic. Of course, we also have Wagner Moura’s character, who gets high on the thrill of being the first to capture the chaos. Not all journalists are made equal, nor are they in the industry for the same reasons. 

How can you capture and convey the horrors of war through a still image? Civil War is a visceral experience that perfectly encapsulates the critical role journalists play on the frontlines. The Stateside conflict brings the chaos close to home, providing a terrifying glimpse of what war might look like in our own back yard. 


Review by: Benjamin Garrett

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