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  • Writer's pictureJamie

Civil War - Review

Civil War is an expertly divisive film while being almost completely apolitical. It has rubbed people the wrong way with criticism that it is not taking a stand or side, fence sitting on issues they feel it is vaguely commenting on. I feel that the premise and setup are not about our politics and don’t look to comment on those ideas. With a world that is just like our own with unexplained changes, the film forces you to accept how things are and is interested in explaining them to you, because its not what the film is about. I understand that some may feel unsatisfied by this but if you look at the story as it is, hey, get over it. 

The story follows four journalists as they attempt to traverse a civil war torn United States wherein the Western Forces (composed of military from California and Texas) ramp up their fight against the president and his state. We’re unsure how the war began and which side is fighting for what, we only know that they want to take over or keep the power. Most of the war is built on this fight for power and not on ideals. 

Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and Joel (Wagner Moura) are gunning for this interview and a fated picture of the president that is not controlled by his press. Before making the journey, they speak to Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) about what they are trying to do and he decides to come along. They also meet Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) who is a young upcoming photojournalist and they take her under their wing for what will be a pretty historial journalistic venture. 

The approach of telling this story through journalists tells you a lot about the intent of the film, as journalists are supposed to be objective in their reporting, specifically not taking sides where possible. This attitude leaves a lot of the world building to the unsaid and natural. We pick up a lot through context and who the group meet along the way, not relying on dialogue to spell it out for us. It also impressively sets up the world that we’re in, without drawing out explanations or feeling rushed. Having it set in a believable, yet distant possibility gives us a lot of context that we don’t need to be given, allowing for more room for character development. 

This is a big film, spanning from New York to Washington DC, where we see different levels of the world these characters live in, from pure anarchy and lawlessness to community and the adaptability of the people in this situation. There is an inherently hostile environment that these characters are in, knowing that the journey they are going on will be fraught with interactions that may not be of the most civilised nature. We certainly get those interactions, some of them being some of the most tense scenes I have watched in a long time. The conclusion of the film also offers some incredibly tense moments and a really impactful climax to the story. 

It is impossible to talk about the film without mentioning the sound, which made me feel like a little scared baby in the middle of a warzone, with every bullet shot feeling like a crack of lightning right in my ear. It is completely uncompromising in its sound design, oppressive and massive, with expert immersion in the placement of these sounds while in the theatre. I feel this should be a necessary film to see with Dolby Atmos where you get the overhead speakers and a full 360 soundscape of war. I would be apprehensive to recommend seeing this without these big speakers and on a big screen too. 

The look of the film is both cinematic and grand, while also emulating news camera footage with some of its handheld, observatory style and 1.85 aspect ratio. This handheld and rough style is blended with moments of wider scale and beautifully presented shots. This is often while the group are in the car, driving through the areas that have not been taken over by the civil war. 

Speaking of our crew, their dynamic is really well developed, mostly through existing in the world and going through the journey together. They have conversations and process in the cra together that feel natural and help to give us sligh insights into who they are. Where we get most of our development is in the “battle zones” when they come up against adversity. Without a lot of dialogue in these moments, we see who they are, and how they change through what has happened through the film. 

I feel there are a few scenes where it feels like there are some forced conversations that lay themselves out as a scene to develop characters, and come about in quite an unnatural way. Even with this, I think they have effective outcomes and help to further the story, especially as we progress through the film and lead into the final act. 

Now for the final act of my review.  Civil War is a really interesting film, and I’m glad it exists, even just to hear the discourse from both sides of the political spectrum both accepting it as their own and disavowing it for assuming anything about its messaging. The perspective of the film is objective, in telling a story about diversion and how the media is still in the same position as they are now. There is a coldness and dedication to telling the story by our protagonists, with humanity leaking in in the moments in between, changing how we feel about the situations they get into. Alex Garland is controversial filmmaker, giving us some universally loved and universally divided films but I don’t think many of them go by without a conversation, which is an important voice for us to have creating films.


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