“Civil War” Review | Almost Great

Alex Garland has created a career out of writing and directing unique and interesting films that many would call peak cinema. Some of his films offer pure entertainment, such as 28 Days Later or Annihilation, while some of his other films take a stab at social commentary that will really make you think, such as Ex Machina or Men. Garland’s latest, Civil War, walks the line between both social commentary and entertainment.

In Civil War, modern fears come to life as California and Texas create the Western Front, and are marching toward Washington D.C. to take on the President (Nick Offerman). The film is seen through the eyes of seasoned war photojournalist, Lee (Kirsten Dunst), and her colleagues and crew as they make their way from New York to Washington in an attempt to interview the President before the war comes to an end.

Garland builds tension better than almost any other filmmaker in Hollywood, and Civil War is no exception. From encounters with Jesse Plemons’ patriotic soldier to moments as simple as stopping for gas, the tension is almost never-ending. Movie logic tells you that Lee’s group won’t all make it to Washington in one piece, but when and how they go will gnaw at you for the entirety of the nearly two-hour runtime.

alex garland, civil war, Kirsten Dunst, movie review, nick offerman

With so many parallels to modern America, those wondering how things got to the point of civil war may not be fully satisfied, but there’s a reason for Garland’s madness here. Instead of painting a clear picture of what happened to lead America into another civil war, Garland uses snippets of the President’s latest speech, TV news reports, and the occasional human encounter to provide just enough information to let you know how bad things are, but no real details on how we got there.

The lack of historical exposition means that audiences can’t choose sides. Instead, eager viewers must focus on Lee’s team and their journey to Washington, exactly as Garland intended. The problem is that while the audience gets invested in Lee and her team of Joel the cameraman (Wagner Moura), her old colleague Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), and the young, overly eager photojournalist Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), the payoff isn’t there.

By the end of the film, there are no real surprises. Garland builds a shadowy narrative that begs to see a perfect ending for this ragtag group of journalists, but instead, we’re delivered an ending that is simply par for the course. Cailee Spaeny’s character in particular has a significant shift in personality that almost makes you wonder if a few days of character growth was left on the cutting room floor. It’s almost jarring how quickly she changes, foreshadowing the painfully obvious ending to come.

When the first 90 minutes of a film are outstanding, it’s extremely disappointing when the last 20 minutes go downhill. Civil War doesn’t quite stick the landing, but the tense build-up and the action-packed final moments of the film are well worth the price of an IMAX ticket. For a war film, the ending is an exception, but this is a character-driven story, and those characters don’t all get a satisfying conclusion. Don’t expect a satisfactory ending to the social commentary and character development that Garland does so well throughout most of the film, and you should thoroughly enjoy everything else that flashes before your eyes as America tears itself apart.

About Civil War

Synopsis: 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.

Director: Alex Garland

Writer: Alex Garland

Stars: Nick Offerman, Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Cailee Spaeny

Rated: R

Runtime: 1 Hour, 49 Minutes

Releases: April 12, 2024

Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.

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