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'Civil War' movie review: A telling treatise on how divisive destroys even the most powerful country

Updated on: 18 April,2024 01:35 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Johnson Thomas |

Civil War movie review: “Civil War” focuses on reporters/ photo-journalists who risk their lives in order to get the scoop before the competition

'Civil War' movie review: A telling treatise on how divisive destroys even the most powerful country

Still from Civil War

Film: Civil War
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Jesse Plemons, Nick Offerman.
Director: Alex Garland
Rating: 3.5/5
Runtime: 99 min

America had it’s civil war during Abraham Lincoln’s time. This one is entirely fictional and its future dystopia being envisaged by writer- director Alex Garland. The narrative basically takes a journey across America, following a team of military-embedded journalists as they race against time to reach DC before rebel factions descend upon the White House and go ballistic.

This film may have been intended as a cautionary tale and is possibly an alternative future of a divided United States. The narrative comes at you with turbulence. We don’t get to know why the problems have arisen. Just that it exists. The takes are a technically proficient, hard hitting compendium of images depicting a genocidal, lynch-mob bent. The violence is a spectacle for sure and is there as a gratuitous accompaniment of turbulent,troubled times. In this movie the journalists are covering strife in their own country. So Alex Garland’s effort seems geared to bring out issues that deal with journalistic ethics during war torn times.

This film echoes several other features about journalists covering strife in regions far away from the USA. Garland has basically turned his camera inward looking at what happens if the US becomes a war-torn region. This is neither allegory or satire. It just channels into a certain divisive mood ( applicable to all nations battling dissentious politics) and presents a horrifying picture of what could be if we aren’t careful.

“Civil War” focuses on reporters/ photo-journalists who risk their lives in order to get the scoop before the competition. The scoop takes precedence over everything else. They in fact have to compartmentalize their existence in order to stay focused. Their job itself gives them the perks of a never ending series of adrenaline rushes and they probably have forsaken home, family and country for that very purpose.It may seem strange that soldiers, out for blood, tolerate and facilitate the presence of these unarmored observers. That’s the code of war I guess.  

The film introduces four journalists, two of them photo-journalists (a rookie and a senior) and the other two experienced reporters covering a clash in New York City between what appear to be police forces from the official government and violent members of the opposition. Lee (Kirsten Dunst) is a legendary white female photojournalist modeled on her namesake Lee Miller. She’s partnered with a South American-born reporter named Joel (Wagner Moura). Both work for Reuters news agency. Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), is the seniormost, an older African-American journalist who writes for “what’s left of the New York Times,” and the fourth player in this quartet is fourth member, Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), a junior version of Lee. They are basically driving to Washington, D.C. in the hopes of capturing some Pullitzer worthy pics before interviewing the president (Nick Offerman) whio it seems is on the verge of being forced to surrender to the military forces of the Western Alliance.  

The shocker comes when Jesse Plemons, who plays a soldier who interrogates the terrified group of journalists, turns on them,  terrorizing them and shooting down two of them.

“Civil War” can be called speculative fiction because of its futuristic dystopian bent. The world-building may not have back-stories but it manages to hold you in its spell given the brutality it concerns itself with.  We see journalists determined to catch the story even if it kills them - while everything around them is coming apart. Their turning a blind eye to the killing that is going on in the interests of the story, might be off-putting though. The reporters' primary objective might be to tell the story and not to pick sides. The manner in which this film plays out, it does seem more likely that the intention is to question the ethics of the journalistic profession. The problem though is that the politics of it is never clear.

The movie is narrated through a series of set pieces that test the characters physically, morally and ethically as they move from one place to another and the finale section basically turns it all around with matter-of-fact horror and outright peril. It’s a unique experience. The movie is a summation of insane ideas, has good solid performances, is pacy, edgy and thrilling. The film is harrowing while it lasts but the minute you exit the theatre it’s just gonna leave your mind ’cos the context is never clear.  

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