Light Mode

‘Civil War’ Review: A Hauntingly Refreshing Take on War Films

In his last directorial work before transitioning to writing, Alex Garland presents Civil War, his newest cinematic project distributed by A24 — their most expensive production to date with a reported budget of $50 million. The film unfolds in a dystopian future America, following a group of journalists embedded with the military as they race against time to arrive in Washington, D.C. Their mission: securing an interview with the loyalist U.S. president amidst threats from rebel factions, notably The Western Forces of California and Texas. While the premise holds great promise, the execution falls slightly short of expectations. Nonetheless, Civil War offers an engaging narrative that provides a fresh perspective within the saturated genre of war films.

Are you an avid A24 film lover? See some of the things that make them indispensable!


- Advertisement -

Saving Stories, Not Lives: The Harsh Reality of War Photography

Civil War‘s standout feature lies in its narrative perspective. It breaks away from the conventional focus on soldiers, commanding officers, or leaders in war films by centering on four war journalists. This uncommon approach prompted me to reflect on the vital role these journalists play as they are the ones present on the ground, diligently capturing the essence of the tumultuous scenes unfolding before them. The portrayal of these members of the press, particularly the photojournalists,  yielded captivating imagery. The meticulous process of setting up each shot and timing the perfect moment, while unsettling, underscored the film’s underlying commentary. Despite the tension and occasional graphic scenes, the anticipation of capturing the ideal shot kept me engaged, highlighting the film’s nuanced storytelling.

Further, I was captivated by the evolution of Cailee Spaeny’s character, Jessie, in the film. She starts as a young, aspiring photographer joining seasoned professionals on their journey. Witnessing the harsh realities around her, she transforms from innocence to desensitization, embracing the brutal truth for journalism’s sake. This contrasted with the journey of veteran photojournalist Lee, portrayed by Kirsten Dunst, who mentors Jessie before spiraling into a frigid state of despair near the final moments of the story. The film’s darkest theme lies in the photojournalists’ duty to document without intervention, even when lives could be saved.

Battlefield of ideas in the war of words: Fighting for narrative impact

civil war review_nick offerman_president of united states
Nick Offerman as the President of the United States in Alex Garland’s CIVIL WAR // CREDIT: Murray Close

While the film presented some intriguing concepts as mentioned earlier, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it lacked depth in terms of character development (aside from Dunst and Spaeny’s roles) and thematic exploration. The idea of a second civil war in a contemporary United States, especially during a real-world election year, had the potential for intriguing storytelling and added weight to its message. However, the film failed to delve into the reasons behind the conflict and the intricacies of the world’s descent into chaos. The portrayals of Nick Offerman’s loyalist U.S. president and Jesse Plemons’s renegade soldier hinted at real-world parallels, especially with Plemons’s poignant question, “What kind of American are you?” Yet, the film’s reluctance to take a definitive stance on these parallels diminished the impact of its themes, treating them more as background decoration than integral narrative elements.

That said, it was intriguing to witness the transformation of familiar settings like the downtown area of a West Virginian town into a battleground for snipers and militia. The glimpses into how ordinary people were adjusting to these changes, or struggling and being dragged into civilian conflict, added depth.

Shifting the lens: War through journalists’ eyes

civil war review_cailee spaeny
Cailee Spaeny as amateur photojournalist Jessie in Alex Garland’s CIVIL WAR // CREDIT: Murray Close

Civil War showcased remarkable performances by standout actors like Kirsten Dunst and Jessie Plemons. It presented a unique perspective on war, yet fell short in developing the setting’s backstories and providing insightful commentary on the political aspects expected in a movie about a deeply political conflict. But despite its imperfections, the film still prompts viewers to reflect on their moral values and contemplate their true allegiances as they exit the theater.

- Advertisement -

See Civil War for yourself and let us know what you think on X (formerly Twitter).


Ben Ahrens_Author Headshot 2Ben Ahrens is a versatile Silicon Valley-based writer, content marketer, photographer, and graphic designer. His passion lies in crafting engaging stories for the entertainment industry and embracing the tech culture of the Bay Area to uncover the next ground-breaking innovations. When not weaving words, you’ll find him curating the perfect playlist for every occasion or exploring the diverse landscapes of Northern California.

- Advertisement -