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Review: 'Civil War'

The movie trailers for Civil War really stopped me in my tracks.

Ten years ago, I would have dismissed a movie like this as merely a far-fetched political drama—a “What if” kind of movie in the vein of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) or Seven Days in May (1964).

But the scenes of people fighting a large-scale war on the streets of this country instead, somehow seemed all-too possible, in light of the events of January 6th or the presence of radical, right-wing, para-military groups lurking in the shadows, awaiting their orders to rise up. 

We live in an increasingly divisive political climate that could reach the boiling point in the very near future.  America has had a long history of hatred and violence, best exemplified in what might eventually become known as Civil War I.

Civil War is the latest film from writer/director Alex Garfield, whose impressive previous work includes Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018).

This time, Garfield tells a story that feels like it could become a terrifying reality in the context of current events.  In the movie, civil war has once again erupted in the United States.  There are resistance forces engaged in a major military operation against the government forces, being led by a dictatorial commander-in-chief, played by Nick Offerman.  He’s an unpopular leader whose days may be numbered.

Before that happens, a pair of seasoned journalists from Reuters have made it their mission to get to Washington and interview the president.  It is a treacherous mission, some say a suicidal mission with insurmountable odds. 

The war-weary photojournalist, Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and her seasoned reporter, Joel (Wagner Moura) are joined by an aging, award-winning, overweight New York Times journalist named Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderspn) who begs them to take him along, offering his wealth of experience and wisdom.  They agree.

But then they are approached by a teenager, Jesse (played by Callee Spaeny) who also wants to tag along. She lacks any reasonable experience, education or training but nevertheless convinces Joel to join them, against the strong objection of Lee, the photojournalist.

He sees in Jesse, the qualities that he admired in his colleague Lee when Lee was just starting out.  He brings Jesse aboard, knowing that she has no idea of what she’s getting herself into.

Unprepared is a word that best describes Jesse.  She comes off as a high-school or college-age student from 1972, running around with a vintage, manual, Nikon 35mm film camera, and what looks to be a single, 35mm lens. 

She is a glaring anachronism in the story---someone who is endlessly snapping away what appears to be countless rolls of 35mm film which she develops in the field, in a plastic, portable film developer.  She is 50 years out of sync with the movie’s time frame.  Nothing about Jesse’s character or camera ever gets beyond ridiculous, even to people who know little or nothing about photography or photojournalism.

By comparison, Lee (Kirsten Dunst’s character) sports a modern digital camera with several lenses, including a telephoto.  It underscores that the Alex Garland  knows how contemporary photojournalism is done and what kind of equipment is required,  It draws attention to his puzzling choices about the discrepancy in the camera gear depicted in the film.  It draws attention to itself and makes no sense.

Also puzzling, are the practical details of the long journey that the journalists must make.  Due to the abundance of wrecked and abandoned vehicles on all the freeways and roads, the group is forced to drive from New York, west to Pittsburgh and then east to Washington, DC. 

They appear to stop for gas only once, paying a hefty black-market charge with Canadian currency.  Times are tough in the middle of a modern civil war.  It’s good to have foreign currency and a vehicle that can travel hundreds of miles on a tank of gas. 

As mentioned, the journey is dangerous and frightening.  Our protagonists encounter scary-looking, armed rednecks at a gas stop who have strung up and brutally tortured two men deemed to be the enemy.  One of them proudly poses for a photo.

Later in the movie, our heroes find themselves being interrogated by lunatic government soldiers in the midst of dumping a large truckload of civilian bodies into a mass grave.  It’s the most horrifying and suspenseful sequence in the film—remarkably powerful.

There is plenty of suspense in Civil War.  Overall, it is well-written and well-directed.  The visual and audio effects are first-rate.  The music track is perfection.

It culminates in a final, violent clash in the streets of the Capitol at night, leading up to an all-out assault on the White House where the president is making his last stand.  No spoilers here, but what happens in the end is more emotional or wishful than logical or believable.  It may leave some in the audience cheering, but others are going to be shocked and perhaps a little disappointed. 

Civil War is a movie that deserved a better final act, not one that borrowed a little from some of the final shots of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968).





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תגובה אחת

I think Americans have more to be concerned about with roving gangs of unpunished criminals and a president who does nothing to protect the citizens of the country he's arguably supposed to be serving than your fantasy of right wing military boogey men.

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