Review: ‘Civil War’ an entertaining narrative of consequences

ACTION SHOT—Lee, played by Kristen Dunst, takes a photo of a violent scene involving a fellow journalist while her team, of Joel, played by Wagner Moura, Sammy, played by Stephen McKinley Herderson, and Tony, played by Nelson Lee, bring up the rear. Courtesy of A24.

By Juan Calvillo

Writer and director of “Civil War” Alex Garland crafts an intense film that highlights the importance, and drain, of documenting truth, while skillfully reminding audiences actions have consequences. 

The action thriller, another film by production company A24, has moments of genuine dread and levity throughout its 149-minute run time, but the film really shines in simple character moments.

“Civil War” does not explain the backstory of why the USA has fallen into a war with itself. 

Luckily, the movie manages to quickly establish the basics with a flurry of visuals that show everyday citizens fighting against police, then the military. 

Throughout the movie, one-liners are peppered in giving a bit more context about what has gone wrong with the country. 

The most interesting bits are focused on the current president having stayed for a third term and air strikes happening on American soil. 

The first minutes of the film focus on the third-term president, played by Nick Offerman, preparing a speech claiming victory against the separatists of California and Texas. 

From there a quartet of journalists, played by Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny and Stephen McKinley Henderson, trek their way from New York to Washington D.C. in the hopes of getting the chance to interview the president. 

That is the entirety of the plot of “Civil War.” 

Audiences looking to find a deeper storyline that explains the events that lead to the civil war will be saddened, but viewers looking for interesting character development and reflection on the state of our world will not.

Dunst’s character Lee is a photojournalist. 

She has seen a lot over her years covering conflicts across the globe with flashbacks of soldiers and civilians dying in war zones. 

The character is the main protagonist of the film and it’s through her jaded and traumatized eyes that the events of the movie unfold. 

At Dunst’s side is Spaeny’s character Jessie a young photojournalist who, through the events of the movie, changes the most. 

Moura plays his character of Joel as a brash, emotional journalist whose entire focus is getting the interview with the current president. 

Finally, Henderson plays Sammy, the elder statesman of the group. 

He’s a New York Times reporter who, despite his old age, is driven to get the next story on the page. 

This group of journalists makes up the team that audiences follow throughout the movie.

Of the four characters, the most interesting is Dunst’s. 

Dunst is an incredible actor whose eyes and demeanor evoke both strength and harrowing sadness. 

The character’s purpose is to take that one great photo of the U.S. president, but as the movie goes on Lee proves to be a mentor to Jessie and a friend to Joel and Sammy.

It’s through the complexity of Dunst’s performance that audiences see how tormented Lee has become with the darkness she has covered. 

Lee has a moment in the film where she describes how her work was always about sending a signal of what the people in the U.S. shouldn’t do. 

Her perspective focuses on how, despite all these warnings, people didn’t listen. This is where the movie shines. 

“Civil War” is a tale about actions having consequences.

 It’s a film that acknowledges the work of journalists, but shows the limit of their persuasive powers. 

The U.S. president stays in power for a third term and a civil war erupts. 

People take a hardline on who and what America is all about and in the movie this mindset leads to either people’s death or people being ignorant.

While the character analysis and message of the movie is thought provoking, the action sequences and audio work is sublime. 

The movie’s depiction of war in the U.S. capital and battles between New York and D.C. are spellbinding. 

The movie’s estimated budget of $50 million must have been stretched to the last penny for many of the action sequences. 

The final sequence in D.C. is a blast to watch as a pure action flick. 

The locales are quite diverse ranging from city landscapes to rural towns.

The movie’s sound department plays a huge part in the movie. 

Garland uses impressive range of audio elements to make the film more than just big explosions. 

He plays with moments of silence and interesting music choices to evoke a feeling of both happiness and whimsy. 

The sound effects and audio are the biggest draws when it comes to creating moments of dread in this film. 

Audiences can expect to be jolted from their seats in all of the gun fight scenes. 

Each shot is both a punch to the gut and overload to the ears.

The movie’s use of stark visuals mixed in with photo stills is also quite interesting.

 It is a unique idea that is used sparingly and only to evoke a more gritty feeling that a moment of film might focus on and have passed in a second. 

The use of photos does exactly what photography, on a good day, should do. 

The photos are used to freeze moments in time and Garland’s use of these frames give viewers a more visceral look at some of the film’s traumatic moments.

This film is both entertaining and thought provoking, something art can be. 

The movie is rated R for severe violence and gore, profanity, mild alcohol and drugs and severe frightening and intense scenes. “Civil War” is out now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *