MediaFilm ReviewsCIVIL WAR by Alex Garland

CIVIL WAR by Alex Garland

This American-British film tells the story of a group of journalists, who journey across America to document a Second American Civil War.

CIVIL WAR. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Callee Spaeny, Wagner Moura, Stephen McKinley, Nick Offerman, and Sonoya Mizuno. Directed by Alex Garland. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong themes and violence). 109 min.

Review by Peter Sheehan, Associate of Jesuit media Australia

The film is set in an indeterminate (but near) future. It anticipates a second Civil War that grips the United States, and shows a group of photo-journalists struggling to survive professionally and personally in a nation that has become a dictatorship, where extremist groups engage freely in criminal behaviour. The group is led by veteran war photographer, Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst). The President of the United States (Nick Offerman) speaks to begin the film: he is power-hungry, and desperately trying to exercise control. On television, he informs the nation that everything is all right, but news footage tells viewers that such is not at all true. As a three-term President, he has disbanded the FBI and has authorised drone strikes against US civilians. Polarisation has morphed into factionalism, and conflict is everywhere. Nineteen American States have succeeded, and a militia group led by the secessionist states is warring against loyalist states that are being commandeered by a corrupt, evangelical President. The group of journalists finds itself navigating a brutal, war-torn, country.

The journalists race against time under Lee’s leadership to reach Washington before rebel factions occupy the White House. They want to interview the President, before he is forced to surrender, or killed. Troops are marching forward to force their way into the White House. The journalist’s focus is always to get a good story, with horror camera shots – whatever that story might turn out to be.

The film is a tough, gripping movie that explores the violent uncertainty of life in a nation that is steeped in crisis. It is a dystopian drama with highly aggressive, brutal battle sequences that show a nation heading towards destruction. America is balanced on a knife-edge, and the film is an intensely cautionary tale about times ahead, and its ultra-violence portends a terrible future. The movie ends in horror mode. Director, Alex Garland has delivered an horrific, wake-up call to show what could lie ahead: an America riddled with factions, aggression everywhere, and conflict from within.

The movie is powerfully directed to be politically divisive. The journalists have different agendas among themselves, and the film captures crises in gory, blood-soaked detail. It offers a disquieting trip into the heart of darkness. It anticipates an America that is violently divided, and it pushes journalism into morally uncertain areas that are controversial. Under strong and decisive direction by Garland, the film offers a prophetic vision of an America to come, and one can only hope that future reality is not al all where he has taken us.

Peter Sheehan is an Associate of Jesuit Media


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