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The premise and the title of Civil War hold more controversy (and potential) than the actual film, which is mostly a conventional guerilla survival tale focused on wartime journalists.

Alex Garland’s latest high-concept societal critique envisions an American civil war in the near future. Yet while the film is released in a year that will certainly soon see entrenched, partisan politics clash once more, Civil War is a curiously apolitical affair.

This is not necessarily a bad thing at first, as the picture focuses on a small group of journalists heading towards a potential endgame in Washington DC. The sparring between seasoned photographer Kirsten Dunst, upstart photo journalist Cailee Spaeney and veteran writer Stephen Henderson adds a great dynamic that fuels the movie’s first hour.

Yet it doesn’t take long for narrative repetition to sink in and because the origins of the nationwide conflict are kept opaque the film lacks the nuances and insight needed to truly draw you into the world depicted. A mid-movie sequence with a militia digging a mass grave suffers in particular and lacks suspense as a consequence.

Another missed opportunity is the visual approach, which doesn’t lean into warzone photography aesthetics nearly enough. Garland contents itself with rote black-and-white snapshots from time to time and thus fails to add a unique vantage point to the story.

This doesn’t really spoil your viewing experience – Civil War mostly breezily flies by – but you are left with a feeling that a much more though-provoking film could have been culled from this premise, while the plight of the characters could have been handled less stereotypically.

release: 2024

director: Alex Garland

starring: Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeney, Wagner Moura, Stephen Henderson


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