Film review – Civil War

Military journalists race against time in a not-too-distant future dystopian America, to reach Washington D.C. before rebel factions descend on the Whitehouse.

From Alexander Garland, the critically acclaimed screenwriter of the mind-blowing Dredd (2012) and director of Ex Machina (2014). Comes the potentially all too-real tale of a second civil war, concentrating predominantly in the Northeast of the United States of America.

Set as a road trip from hell, with our characters leaving a fractious New York through to Pennsylvania and West Virginia, then finally to Washington D.C. Garland throws us deep into the turmoil of a fractured society but with added firepower. Knowingly apolitical, Garland did not side with any party, thus leaving it open for creating even more uncertainty and panic, both from the audience and indeed the war reporter’s point of view. With frighteningly realistic full volume dummy rounds used on set, the sheer visceral impact of each shot is felt in the cinema. The decision to shoot the film in chronological order certainly had a hand in creating a real tension throughout, which is all over the actor’s faces. Filmed over a ten-week period Garland shied away from blocking scenes in order to give free rein to the actors and create a more realistic atmosphere on set.

Produced by A24, Civil War is their highest budget film so far, coming in at $50m and producing some already very healthy returns in its opening weekend. Written by Garland in June 2020, and with principal photography beginning in Atlanta in March 2022 and moving to London in May 2022, Civil War was shot using the newest Sony 8K cameras and partially with new Ronin DJI 4D gimbals to give us some visceral, more news-like shots of the highly realistic death and destruction.

The film stars Kirsten Dunst as Lee Miller, a veteran photojournalist, hardened and very much jaded with PTSD by the sheer horror already witnessed in her career, through to the comparatively innocent and fragile newcomer Jesse played by Cailee Spaeny of recent Priscilla fame. Alongside Dunst and Spaeny, is the enigmatic Wagner Moura, Jesse’s senior and mentor Joel, with Stephen McKinley Henderson playing Sammy, the wise overseeing figure of comparative calm in what may be his last journalistic expedition. Scene stealer Jesse Plemmons really ramps up the tension at one point, playing an unnamed soldier for a single, yet tense short scene.


With the current (yet seemingly dying out) trend for mindless superhero cinema creating a healthy fictional distance for the average filmgoer, with Civil War the action feels all too real. Especially when we look back at the all too real events of January 6th 2021 with the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington, the riots seem to mirror TV footage without the need to magnify or overplay the horrifying facts. As the filming moved through the shoot, the circumstances are if anything beautifully underplayed when our main four road trip journalists stumble upon a sharpshooter in a ground of budget Christmas celebrations, that oppose the terror of being caught in solitary crossfire. Once again, there are no political leanings here denoting who is right or wrong, or indeed who is good or bad.

What does strikes me are the gruesome similarities and subtle nods to masterpiece Apocalypse Now. Especially in regards to the build-up of excruciating mental tension suddenly overflowing from Joel (Wagner Moura) as he witnesses wave after wave of Western Front forces of California and Texas fly past on their way to Washington D.C. Helpless to prevent the downfall of third-term President (Nick Offerman), who has striking similarities to a recent (and possibly future) American leader.

Civil War is so much more than an action film, it is a potential warning to governments that arming their citizens leaves a licence to exert a force which cannot be underestimated. One can’t help but wonder if Garland’s efforts here may be seen as oddly prophetic in years to come. Try to see this as large and as loud as soon as possible for the full devastating effect!

Civil War is Apocalypse Now. Now!






Author: Piers, Maidstone Store

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