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‘Civil War’ review: Possibly Alex Garland’s best film

Alex Garland’s latest is his most ambitious and possibly best film.

At the start of the 21st century, novelist Alex Garland made the jump as a screenwriter, predominately in the realm of sci-fi movies, such as 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd. He eventually became a director where he still maintains his interest in sci-fi storytelling that is more cerebral, as seen in Ex Machina and Annihilation. As seen in 2022’s divisive Men, Garland seems open to try other genres, but with his recent announcement that he would not direct any films in the foreseeable future, if Civil War is to be his last directorial work, it would be a great note to end on. 

Although you wouldn’t classify Garland’s latest feature science-fiction, Civil War does tap into dystopian fiction, in that it takes place in the near-future where the United States has been engulfed by a rapidly escalating Second American Civil War. The story starts in New York, where we are introduced to the four journalists who travel together across the war-torn nation to reach Washington with the hope of interviewing the President (Nick Offerman) whose government has become a dystopian dictatorship. 

Given that American politics are a touchy subject which has created countless debates between the right-wing and the left-wing, no doubt Civil War will receive various reactions from both sides of the spectrum. However, Garland isn’t interested in presenting the film as a political discussion, or even as a reaction to certain administrations. If anything, its world-building of a war-torn modern America has something more in common with genre-defining works like The Last of Us or Attack on Titan, which are about presenting perspectives on survival and the pointlessness of war.

The central perspectives are the four journalists, each with their own background, such as the renowned war photojournalist Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and her colleague Joel (Wagner Moura) who set up the initial plan of journeying to Washington. Accompanying them is Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) – an older journalist who serves as a mentor to Lee and Joel –and Jessie, an aspiring young photographer who Lee reluctantly places under her wing. From the occasional bickering to the few moments of banter, you enjoy being in the company of these characters, while actors like Kirsten Dunst delivers one of her best performances as a photojournalist who has seen so much horror that even though she maintains a somewhat cold persona, is it slowly taking an emotional toll on her. 

As seen in brief flashbacks of Lee taking pictures of atrocities in a number of foreign countries, the protagonists are now seeing similar acts of brutality in their homeland. As journalists who are all about chasing the story, they become observers towards these intense situations, as preempted by Joel, who is generally excited to see some action. However, it is when a conflict is directed towards them and suddenly being in the heat of action is absolutely a life-or-death situation, as evident in the film’s most terrifying scene featuring Jesse Plemons’ unnamed soldier, who intimidates with the simple question: “what kind of an American are you?” 

The film may not shy away from the graphic content, ranging from countless bodies to public executions, it is a spectacle that you can’t look away from. Seeing it in IMAX is quite an immersive experience which showcases Rob Hardy’s stunning cinematography and the heart-pounding sound design that makes you feel like you are in the center of a war zone. While the pacing can be off in places where there are scenes that are just visuals, accompanied by catchy all-American needle drops, it pays off in a thrilling climax that showcases what a kinetic and thrilling director Alex Garland is.

Civil War opens in theaters April 12

civil war
‘Civil War’ review: Possibly Alex Garland’s best film
Civil War
A truly breathtaking speculative war movie that isn’t interested in choosing sides of the political spectrum but is about a group of people trying to survive and possibly understand what is happening in their homeland.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Four amazing leads, led by a career-best Kirsten Dunst.
An immersive technical experience that has to be seen in IMAX.
A great exploration of survival and the pointlessness of war.
Stunning visuals by cinematographer Rob Hardy, along with catchy needle drops...
...even if the pacing can be slow in places.
9.5
Great

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