Civil War
While Alex Garland’s dystopian war film hits dangerously close to the real political unrest in the United States, the film doesn’t end up being as disturbing as it could have been.

Civil War

Release Date: April 12, 2024
Runtime: 01:49
A journey across a dystopian future America, following a team of military-embedded journalists as they race against time to reach DC before rebel factions descend upon the White House.

Table of Contents

A group of journalists try to make their way through a country at war to attempt to interview the president in . After the President of the United States () threw the country in disarray the Florida Alliance and Western Forces of Texas and California split off from the country and declared war against the Loyalist States. As the Western Forces come close to storming Washington D.C., photojournalist Lee () drives off with her colleagues Joel () and Sammy () in an attempt to interview the President before he is killed. On the journey, Lee reluctantly becomes a mentor to Jessie (), a young photographer who wants to follow in Lee's footsteps.

Civil War Synopsis

Civil War is a dystopian war film written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation, Men), taking place in a divided America of the near future. The film is told from the perspective of a group of journalists driving a perilous 870-mile route from New York City to Washington D.C., witnessing along the way how this Civil War has brought out the worst in humanity. At the narrative core are Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog) and Cailee Spaeny (Priscilla) as world-weary photojournalist Lee and her young protege Jessie, the latter comes to learn the difficulties and challenges of covering warzones.

My Thoughts on Civil War

As a British filmmaker, Alex Garland has a decidedly outsider perspective, as he directs a film that is not so vaguely inspired by the current political situation in the United States. Seen and heard predominantly through his regular broadcasts, Nick Offerman's Trump-like US President is described as someone whose crimes include abolishing term limits and disbanding the FBI. Civil War begins as the President is on the verge of losing to the Western Forces and the central group of journalists hope to make it to Washington D.C. in time to get a final interview with him.

Despite depicting events that have a non-zero chance of actually happening, Civil War ends up being not as disturbing as it could have been. That said, the film features affecting moments such as bodies strewn across the streets of New York City and a very memorable and tense sequence featuring, star Kirsten Dunst's husband, as a very racist and trigger-habby anonymous soldier. Even a scene of levity in a supposedly normal town is disrupted when Sammy, played as the film's voice of reason by Stephen McKinley Henderson (Dune), notices armed soldiers patrolling on the rooftops.

Props have to be given to Kirsten Dunst for taking such a challenging role, in response to her only being offered “sad mom” roles after her previous performance in 2021's The Power of the Dog. Dunst works nicely as a reluctant mentor of Cailee Spaeny's Jessie, with Spaeny being much more memorable here than she was last year in Sofia Coppola's Priscilla. That said, I found that Wagner Moura (Narcos, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish) ended up being the least memorable of the core cast members.

While I was generally a fan of Alex Garland's previous directorial effects, as well as his collaborations with director Danny Boyle, Civil War does hit a bit too close to current events to be viewed as escapist entertainment. However, in some ways, Civil War doesn't hit close enough and by the final act is just another war film that just happens to be set on American soil.

Trailer for Civil War

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.