Saturday, May 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Civil War’ is an American Nightmare

Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Stars: Nick Offerman, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons

Synopsis: A journey across a dystopian future America, following a team of military-embedded journalists as they race against time to reach DC before rebel factions descend upon the White House.

I cannot think of a more dangerous film to enter our lives at this very moment. Civil War is jaw-dropping, downright incendiary, and brutally obtuse in its stubborn frankness. Yet, the gloriously mercurial writer and director Alex Garland paints a picture of modern-day dystopian America in peril and the midst of a civil war. Initially, we thought we had the movie figured out, but after leaving your local Cineplex, you won’t be pondering which side you would choose to be on. 

Instead, you’ll find yourself asking, “Which side of patriotic fervor won?”

Civil War follows a group of wartime correspondents in New York. After a brilliant opening sequence, Lee (Kirsten Dunst) saves the life of a junior photojournalist, Jessie (Priscilla’s Cailee Spaeny), when a bomb detonates in the heart of Brooklyn during a protest. Jessie tracks Lee back to her hotel and confesses how much she admires her, though Lee looks at Jessie, pondering whether she should shield the young woman from experiencing the struggles and horrors of the job.

Yet, Lee’s partner in crime, Joel (Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s Wagner Moura), a reporter (and man whore), invites Jessie along the next morning on their perilous journey, opting to take the long route to Washington, D.C., traveling from New York City to Pittsburgh to avoid dangerous outbreaks of war where survival is unlikely. Think Zombie meets Red Dawn, but with characters who should know better and none of Jesse Eisenberg’s feverish wordplay or a legendary Bill Murray cameo.

Joined by Lee’s mentor and seasoned newspaperman, Sammy (Dune’s Stephen McKinley Henderson), their mission is to obtain a photograph and quote from the current President (Origin’s Nick Offerman), who has been sequestered in a bunker in the White House. That’s, of course, if rebel fighters, rogue government forces, survivalists, civilian militias, or the plainly tormented and shell-shocked don’t kill them first.

These are the press member characters, depicted by a wonderful cast, who choose not to pick a side, just document to hold those accountable and for everyone to see. Dunst, who is always an underappreciated performer, is stellar in the role—the film’s conscience and steadily set the tone. 

Moura is electric in his role, playing the classic roguish, swashbuckling, and wisecracking man of action who lives for the moment. And in this case, he gets more than he expects. In the case of Spaeny, like W.W. Beauchamp, she gets much more than she bargained for, seeing the real thing up close and personal. 

Garland’s Civil War is a truly visceral experience that shows how to play both sides of the fence by allowing the viewer to tap into the film’s meticulous ambiguity, allowing the viewer to interpret which side you gravitate towards. Is the President a version of Donald Trump because he wears a red tie and he’s a White man in power? Are the good guys the ones fighting and brutally and ruthlessly killing soldiers in camo? Then why are the prisoners of war being executed with a ferocious machine gun by people wearing the same clothes?

As the film builds toward the big final showdown, can we say the rebels known as the “WF” are the good guys storming the White House? Did we forget the Capital Building Riots on January 6, 2021, where “proud” MAGA members stormed Washington? Even the much-talked-about and will go down as legendary Jesse Plemons cameo does not clear anything up for anyone, even if his character clearly is someone who is working to rid what he considers the world of non-White American inhabitants. 

That’s what makes the film experience of the Civil War so provocative, inflammatory, and dangerous. Anyone left in a dark room watching Garland’s film can be left on their own devices to come to their own conclusions. His tenacious, riveting, and staggering vision isn’t the American dream.

It’s an American nightmare.

Grade: A+

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