Civil War (2024) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

Civil War ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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. On at Chiswick Cinema now.

While most blockbusters these days tend to just numb your senses with explosions, loud music and fast cutting, and are packed with people in spandex and flashy visual effects, often with not a lot of substance and a plot which could be written on the back of a stamp, Civil War (ironically named just like one of those Marvel movies) felt like a breath of fresh air.

Sure, there is action and all, but despite its miss-marketing, which sells it just like another one of the above-mentioned, what sets it apart is the atmosphere this film creates and how the images depicted by director Alex Garland feel uncomfortably close to home.

Garland’s first novel The Beach put him on the map back in the ‘90s and his subsequent screenplays on acclaimed movies like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Ex Machina, (also his directorial debut) solidified his reputation as a versatile and innovative filmmaker with a knack for thought-provoking narratives and dark themes, blending intriguing stories, suspense and social commentary.

Civil War, with its intense narrative and an earie atmosphere, perfectly fits into his body of work.

It is a gripping ‘road movie’ set against the backdrop of a divided America as California, Texas, and Florida (a strange, weird mix) have declared war on the U.S. President.

The story follows a group of journalists as they navigate through the war-torn landscape, heading to DC, chasing after an elusive last interview with the US President.

What comes across is a raw and intense portrayal of a society on the brink of collapse. And it’s terrifying.

But Garland decided not to delve into the politics so much, nor the reasons for the actual war itself, instead preferring to focus on his characters, the journalists and photographer (including Lee, played with a fierce intensity and spooky detachment by Kirsten Dunst) as they are trying to stay objective while documenting the horrors unfolding around them.

It is a gut-wrenching film that poses poignant questions about the nature of journalism, the ethical dilemma of having to take photos of the most unspeakable things, and humanity in general in the face of adversity.

Civil War is filmed mostly in a gritty, documentary-style, which puts you right in the midst of the action, but it’s also mixed with beautiful imagery, in stark contrast with the horrors depicted.

Its perfectly calibrated sound design, mixing the earie stillness of the ‘quiet before the storm’ and sudden bursts of gunfire (a lot of which made me jump off my seat!) enhances the tension to unbearable levels.

A scene (also teased in the trailer) with an armed soldier replying to the journalists claiming, “We are Americans” with “What kind of Americans are you?” must be one of the most terrifying things I’ve seen in the last few years.

What makes it so spooky is how believable it all feels. But while I was watching it, shaking my head and the madness of it all, I couldn’t not help thinking “I’m sure there are people cheering at this, somewhere in some not-too-remote part of America” and that sad lingering thought stayed with me long after the credits rolled.