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Movie Review: Civil War


“I have prophesied for years that I was born for a Great War; that if I did not witness the coming of the Second American Civil War, I would begin it myself.” - Augustus Sol Invictus

On a list of remarkable filmmakers I believe Alex Garland’s name belongs. I just think he needs more time with more opportunities to tell the stories he’s passionate about. Ex Machina is a timely think piece about the dangers of artificial intelligence and those trying to harness it. Annihilation is a science fiction masterclass about duality and self-destruction. While Men isn’t his greatest work, it still manages to provide fascinating thoughts on toxic masculinity and sexism utilizing jarring body horror. His limited series DEVS is some of the most thought provoking, accomplished television ever made. And now with Civil War he’s tackling the ugliness of war and how the very simple idea of why gets lost in translation.  

Although his most straightforward film, it still strives to convey its message with a kind of intensity that rarely lets up until its final moments of absolute mayhem. Perhaps Civil War’s most alarming epiphany is that no matter the conditions a human being finds themselves in, the mind and body, often at different times, can still manage to find a kind of equilibrium. In the case of war, it might be considered more a numbness to the horrors but the idea is that no matter how horrendous a person’s situation may be, they can become accustomed to it. 

The reasons for who each person fights for or against is as varied as the people themselves. The numbness I spoke of can also diversify in the ways it manifests. It leads to some becoming militarized either recently or have been since they were young simply waiting for an excuse. Then there’s the people pretending none of it’s even happening. A majority of the country is splintered into factions with the President himself an authoritarian and these few individuals act as if it’s none of their business and things will just work themselves out. It’s mass delusion, both of which are dangerous in their own right. It’s all elements of a reality that make its inhabitants feel dissociated as if they were Dorothy swept away to the Land of Oz.

Civil War is about a fictional conflict within the U.S. that has broken the country into factions. It is told from the perspective of four journalists, two photographers and two reporters. Lee is hardened by conflict and equally jaded by it. Her road companion is Joel who is also experienced in conflict but still finds himself exhilarated by the undeniable adrenaline he gets from combat. Along for the ride is fellow reporter Sammy who’s hitching a ride until he reaches the front lines of the war currently heading east. Also on board is aspirational newbie photographer, Jessie. She exclaims Lee as a hero of hers and wants to become the next award winning photojournalist capturing the realities of war. Despite having the same destination, their motivations for undertaking this road trip make each person’s journey complex and nuanced. Along the way they encounter the absurdities and uncertainties of war and the level of brutality is unexpected even for the most experienced in their group.  

Much of what the story is trying to convey it does so through the intensity of combat. Along their journey they become ensnared in extremely volatile situations that become increasingly worse as they close in on their ultimate destination of the now barricaded Washington D.C. The ideologies of the people they encounter are terrifying primarily because despite the entirety of the war depicted in the film being fictional, the provocations forcing people to engage in or look the other way are entirely based in reality. You can see it actually happening in a dystopian America. 

I was lucky enough to experience Civil War in IMAX and it is a stellar ordeal. The cinematography is massive combined with extraordinary sound design. Together it immerses you into the ferocity and indifference of modern combat. Bullets rip through and pierce with impunity taking life without warning or judgment. It is incredibly frenzied pushing the narrative that this is all permanent and each decision these characters make have a finality to them as if it will be their last step, last snap of a photograph or final drag of a cigarette. The tension builds to a final confrontation that is extreme with ultra-realistic gunplay and combat sequences. It is one of the most immersive war experiences in cinema since the D-Day invasion of Normandy in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan

It is an action thriller certainly but it has things to say and does so with an unflinching clarity that is both ruthless and invigorating. It’s shocking, its influence lasting and its vision of a fictional future is scarily prophetic. Its greatest tool is staying within the confines of a fictional realism where everything these characters encounter feel as if they could actually take place in every city across this country. In our reality the country has never felt more divided. Civil War poses the question - what if? What if civil war broke out? What if our own government decided that anyone they considered disloyal to their regime would be considered an enemy of the state? What if law and order were no longer upheld? Alex Garland takes this premise of civilian rebellion and shows it for all the ugliness and callousness it would likely bring to the surface. 

Civil War is Garland’s brilliant collision of mainstream cinema and indie storytelling. Clashing in superb fashion, this road trip across a war torn America is visual splendor featuring human fears and ironically inhumane encounters that will shock you and with such a strong delivery, it may just downright scare the hell out of you. It’s meant to be entertaining but never as a dream to be pursued. In the borders of our country, this is worst case scenario. Heed its warning. 

Rated R For: strong violent content, bloody/disturbing images, and language throughout

Runtime: 109 minutes

After Credits Scene: No

Genre: Action

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson

Directed By: Alex Garland

Out of 10

Story: 10/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 10/ Visuals: 10

OVERALL: 10/10

Buy to Own: Yes


Check out the trailer below:

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