‘Civil War’ Movie Review: A Gripping Dystopian Saga of Journalists in the Eye of the Storm

There are times when we get to watch a film that makes us realize what our future might look like and paints a very dark picture in front of us. In Alex Garland’s Civil War, viewers find themselves in the middle of a gruesome fight between the people and the state. Throughout history, there have been several instances where countries have annihilated themselves while trying to bring a revolution. In Garland’s Civil War, audiences are presented with similar scenariosand they are forced to think about which side they should be on in the most haunting way possible.

[Editor’s note: There are mild spoilers ahead for A24’s Civil War.]

Civil War: America on the Brink

The movie starts with the visuals of a civil war erupting in different states of the USA. The President (played by Nick Offerman) addresses the nation and says that the victory is near. Meanwhile, veteran war photojournalist Lee Smith (played by Kirsten Dunst) listens to the President while a bomb destroys a building right after the commander-in-chief says that they are soon going to win this war. As the story moves forward, Lee saves a budding photojournalist named Jessie (played by Cailee Spaeny) from a suicide bombing in Brooklyn.

A few moments later, Lee and her fellow journalist Joel (played by Wagner Moura) plan to visit Washington D.C. to interview the President before the war ends or he dies. The duo is accompanied by another veteran journalist Sammy (played by Stephen McKinley Henderson), and Jessie. Although Lee doesn’t want Jessie to come with them, she eventually makes peace with the fact that she is with them.

Still photo from Civil War
Still photo from Civil War. Image courtesy of A24.

War Photojournalists in a Fractured Nation

The newly formed team moves through various cities as the turmoil intensifies. Jessie soon starts to realize why being a war photojournalist is not a child’s play, and there’s a reason why Lee has become such a big name in the community. But Civil War is not just about journalists covering a war; it is also about people going against their own government and bringing about change. However, change cannot come without a revolution, and that also means that it brings a lot of carnage.

Garland has done a phenomenal job masterfully crafting a world on the brink of collapse, where a strong country like America has found itself torn under economic disparity, race issues, and more. The story itself becomes eerie when we, as an audience, realize that things are actually moving in a direction where people are just finding ways to get on the streets and rebel against the state.

However, the most extraordinary aspect of Civil War is how unflinchingly it explores the human condition in the face of adversity. As the team travels across the desolate highways of a fractured nation, they encounter a variety of characters. Each character has its own moral compass in a world where things are not certain. Through their interactions, Garland delves into several themes, including the blurred line between truth and propaganda.

Civil War is More Than a Gritty Wartime Road Trip

Civil War actually unfolds as a thrilling road movie, showcasing the journalists’ quest to capture extraordinary stories amidst the turmoil. However, the movie is much more than that and excels when Garland skilfully balances intimate human moments with gigantic war-torn landscapes, painting a striking picture of journalists’ harrowing experiences. The character of Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) actually shows how a normal person would feel when he or she gets in the middle of a war. Jessie doesn’t know about the magnitude of this war and what’s happening on the ground. This is how a normal person would feel if they were facing a similar situation. Meanwhile, the character of Lee (Kirsten Dunst) is of a war veteran who knows every single side of the situation and keeps his or her emotions aside while dealing with it.

A Talented Cast Explores the Human Cost of Conflict

As far as acting is concerned, Kirsten Dunst is undoubtedly the soul of this dystopian drama. Dunst plays a jaded photojournalist with precision and delivers a magnificent performance that anchors the movie with emotional depth and complexity. Dunst’s portrayal of Lee makes viewers realize how difficult things can be for a person who has been covering war for a long, long time. Her ability to convey her character’s exhaustion with authenticity makes the viewing experience even more compelling.

Meanwhile, Cailee Spaeny is equally brilliant. Once again, the young actor has shown the world why she can be the next big thing in Hollywood. Her character just takes a spontaneous decision of covering the war by being on the frontline and gets to know why veterans like Lee Smith block their emotions while clicking a picture amidst a bat-sh** crazy situation. Spaeny is a revelation in the movie and leaves a lasting impression on viewers.

Wagner Moura and Cailee Spaeny in Civil War
Wagner Moura and Cailee Spaeny in Civil War. Image courtesy of A24.

Wagner Moura’s portrayal of Joel is compellingly a mixture of vulnerability and determination. Joel is a man driven by a sense of duty and conviction. Stephen McKinley Henderson is amazing in his character as well. However, the film’s standout performance comes from a man who is in it for just five minutes, and yes, we are talking about Jesse Plemons. The actor plays the role of a racist ultranationalist militant who wants to take over the nation and start a revolution. He is hauntingly brilliant in those five minutes.

Final Thoughts on Civil War

All in all, Civil War is a magnificent exploration of how journalists work in times of crisis. It also manages to create feelings of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness among audiences. With amazing storytelling, stunning camerawork, and brilliant performances, Civil War is a must-see film of the year for those seeking stimulating cinema. 

Civil War is now in theaters.

Learn more about the film, including how to buy tickets, at the official website.

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