Sunday 14 April 2024

Civil War

Road To Washington -
No Crosby, No Hope

Civil War
Directed by Alex Garland
USA/UK 2024
UK Theatrical Cut

Civil War is the latest movie both written and directed by Alex Garland. I actually find him a bit hit and miss in both professions, truth be told. The ones that fall into both those categories which were more hits with me were the TV show Devs (reviewed by me here) and, to an extent, his movie Men (reviewed here). This new movie, set in the very near future, is about an ongoing civil war in the USA, where the states of California and Texas team up against everyone else in an attempt to take over the country.

This story follows a seasoned ace photo-journalist called Lee (played by Kirsten Dunst) and her journalistic partner Joel (played by Wagner Moura) as they go on a 400 plus mile road trip across a war torn USA towards Washington, to try and get one last interview with the President (played fleetingly by Nick Offerman) before the combined forces of the two opposing states steamroller through and kill him (with no intent of taking any prisoners). Aiding and abetting them... or rather just tagging along for the ride but becoming seriously involved in the action... are seasoned journalist Sammy (played by Stephen McKinley Henderson) and ‘shutterbug trying to get experience in war photojournalism’ Jessie (played Cailee Spaeny).

The film is absolutely exquisite and I’ll go ahead now and say that this is easily Alex Garland’s best work ever. It’s a sometimes reflective, often chaotic and definitely violent, intense and suspenseful road movie that doesn’t itself stop to take any prisoners along the way. Now, a lot of critics have taken the tack that the film, seen through the lens of the ladies and gentlemen of the press, doesn’t make any judgement calls or take political sides (I believe Garland chose those two unlikely allied states to detract from drawing a political message)... except for one of my favourite reviewers, who said the film is indeed political. Well, I don’t know who is right about that because, as long time readers will know by now, I don’t have a political bone in my body and so probably wouldn’t recognise any points being made. That said, I certainly didn’t think the movie was trying to pontificate for any one political alignment and the take away messages I took home from it don’t, I suspect, fall into any such camp.

I took away two things. Firstly, the message I always take from any film... people shouldn’t make war or go around killing each other. Behaving like that is just crazy outside the confines of mass cultural art and entertainment. 

 But the key thing the film seems to play around with for me... and it’s another old cliché of a point but it sits right with me, is this. What kind of human being are you if you stop to take pictures of the violence and injustice going on around you and don’t put the camera down and try to help out instead? The question is none too subtly explored in this film and Kirsten Dunst’s character, who seems to be secretly haunted by this herself, certainly addresses the issue head-on in a conversation she has with Jessie at one point. Her answer is that you’re there to document and let other people make the judgements and Lee and Jessie certainly come to a conclusion with their individual grasp of that context at the end of the movie. To say anything more about that matter would be to spoil the ending but, to that end, there are also certainly characters in the movie who, in the parlance of Star Trek, are definitely ‘red shirts’.

And the film is shot really well, edited really well and has brilliant sound design. I mean, sure, all the sound cliches are in there such as using upbeat or trivial songs juxtaposed to the horrors of a situation to highlight them... or the old chestnut of letting the music take over to the point where that’s all there is on the soundtrack, before it suddenly drops out and the artillery and explosions of the situation rush in to give a shot in the arm to the audience. But, clichés become that because they work really well and Garland and his colleagues use them to great advantage here.

Lastly, I have to say a word about the acting performances in this. Everybody is absolutely great but special shout outs go to both Cailee Spaeny (who you are in fear for throughout the entire movie) and Kirsten Dunst (turning in what might be the greatest performance of her entire career to date, as far as I’m concerned). There’s also a short but pretty scary and intense sequence featuring Kirsten’s real life spouse Jesse Plemons, which is almost unbearable to watch... a snippet of it can be seen on the trailer.  

And that’s me done with Civil War, I think. This seems to me, from this opening end of the lifespan of the film, to be a stone cold classic which I’ll snap up on Blu Ray when the time comes and, it’s good to see this before a real civil war breaks out in either the USA or the UK anytime soon (or both, as both countries seem to be just around the corner from that, it seems to me). Definitley worth a look if you want a suspenseful time at the cinema.

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