Civil War SXSW Review

March 15, 202480/1006 min
Starring
Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson
Written by
Alex Garland
Directed by
Alex Garland
Run Time
1h 49min
Release Date
April 12th, 2024
Overall Score
Rating Summary

           From the moment the first trailer dropped for Alex Garland’s new film Civil War, the discourse began swiftly. In a time where distrust between people who don’t agree seems high, some may feel like this could be predicting something. That, though, is not the story Garland is telling, nor is he giving you a popcorn-like flick; instead, you will leave Civil War with a new view of what war can do.

Opening on a profile of the president (Nick Offerman), as he rehearses a speech he is about to deliver to the people. His voice is filled with confidence and strength as he assures the nation that America will once again be whole. Among the people watching the speech is a group of reporters and photographers. Included are Lee (Kirsten Dunst), a veteran war photographer, Joel (Wagner Moura), a writer, as well as Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), another writer. Together they are sitting discussing their next move, and for Joel and Ellie, that is to travel to D.C. and try to interview the president. That trip is not going to be the safest, and Sammy asks to tag along for a ride to the Frontline. Also joining them is Jesse (Cailee Spaeny), an early twenty-something girl who wants to get into the war photography business. Together the four of them hit the deserted roads, coming upon pockets of fighting and many people displaced because of the conflict. Civil War is as much a road movie as it is a war movie, as we travel along beautiful landscapes, with pockets of horror along the way. As the group gets closer to D.C., none are the same as when they left, and we are led to an ending that will surely make you want to collect your own thoughts.

Civil War tells a clear story of trauma brought upon by war, in which journalists are the heroes that tell the story. At no time does Garland spoon-feed you anything; instead, he leaves it up to the audience to bring their own assumptions of life in this version of America. At no point does Garland tell you what led to the conflict, and while we hear a little information on actions taken, we are placed in the final weeks instead. The narrative of the film is quite intimate, even as the scale of it all is pretty grand. This movie is not about what is happening now, but more about the horrors of the world beyond politics.

Civil War is often an action spectacle, with its explosions, gunfire, and other sounds of war. Although those scenes are powerful, it is the quiet scenes that will stay with you the most. This is a story about the importance of journalists and the stories they tell not with words but with pictures. There is beauty in how Garland shoots the battle scenes, but the moments that make you catch your breath are the photographs he drops in the middle of the action. The cast is fantastic, especially Dunst, whose character Lee doesn’t say much, but her face says so much more than any words she might say. Ultimately, Civil War is quite an experience, as Garland captures the fragility of life and the importance of journalism and delivers one hell of a movie.

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