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Review: Civil War (2024)

Civil War (2024)

Directed by: Alex Garland

Premise: In the near future, the United States has been torn apart by a second civil war. A group of journalists travel to Washington DC as rebel forces close in on the capital.

What Works: In recent years there has been a lot of chatter in the political press about polarization, social tensions, and speculation of a second civil war. A lot of this coverage has been disturbingly glib with talk radio and cable news hosts apparently gleeful about the possibility of an armed conflict and what that would do for their ratings. The 2024 movie Civil War imagines an armed conflict unfolding in contemporary America and the film plays as a rebuke of that kind of carnival barking and war mongering coverage. The filmmakers treat the possibility of armed conflict seriously and the picture adopts the style of war pictures such as Saving Private Ryan and 1917. It punches a hole through the idea that war is glorious and that combat will yield redemption or renewal. The film’s concept gives it some novelty but Civil War could just as easily be set somewhere else. It’s not about contemporary American politics so much as it is about the reality of warfare and Civil War seems informed by Chris Hedges’ book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning; it mirrors Hedges’ recollections of war reporting and the way combat correspondence can be terrifying, exhilarating, and ultimately corrupting. Civil War follows a group of war reporters as they document battlefront conflicts. The movie stays at their level; it doesn’t divert to generals or others delivering broad exposition about strategy or politics. The lead actors are all terrific but especially Kirsten Dunst as a veteran reporter. The picture is intense and sometimes ferociously violent but Civil War also possesses a naturalistic beauty especially in its calm moments. The sound is exceptional especially the pops and cracks of gunfire. The film puts the viewer on edge, leading up to a finale this is smart and upsetting; we’re left to wonder what exactly was won or lost and that in itself is part of the point.

What Doesn’t: Civil War is not a thrilling adventure movie as White House Down was and Olympus Has Fallen tried to be. Civil War has the realistic approach and somber tone of a war film. While those qualities distinguish the movie and are among its primary assets, they may also alienate viewers looking for a more stimulating kind of action filmmaking. Civil War is also politically ambiguous, at least in terms of its partisan allegiances. Some other commentators have criticized the film for the way in which it has drawn up the fracturing of the nation and how it avoids making a more direct statement about contemporary politics. Whatever the viewer’s politics and however viewers feel about today’s political parties, they will not find validation in Civil War. Its target lies deeper than transitory partisanship.

Bottom Line: Civil War is an extraordinary film. It offers a sobering vision of what domestic militarized conflict might look like and it is a reproach of careless war mongering. It’s also exceptionally well made with great performances.

Episode: #993 (April 21, 2024)