‘Civil War’ Review: A Morbidly Gorgeous Portrait of War

Civil War Review

Cinema has a history of glorifying war and violence in a variety of ways. In stark contrast to the morbid reality of conflict, the abundance of stories centred on military spectacle has allowed other filmmakers to approach the subject from a more grounded angle. Written and directed by Alex Garland, Civil War utilises a political background to deliver a human story in the foreground. This is a morbidly gorgeous portrait of war crafted through a unique science fiction vision.

Set in a dystopian future America, a group of journalists battle through a war-torn nation to reach Washington, D.C., before rebel factions descend upon the White House. With some brief appearances by other performers, the film is led by Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny and Stephen McKinley Henderson.

Civil War is neither a left or right-wing movie. The politics of the war at hand are practically invisible. Instead of exploring ideologies that would cause a country-wide war, the story begins with us embedded in the conflict and doesn’t do much to explain the bigger picture beyond a few off-hand lines of dialogue. To some, this may be disappointing but from the first scene, it becomes clear that Alex Garland is not interested in putting politics at the forefront of the narrative. While it would be foolish to say that this film isn’t political, the focus is squarely on a post-apocalyptic situation imbued by concepts of modern conflicts. In this way, the movie is allowed to flourish with its characters at the forefront.

As our protagonists make their way through America, we are able to dive into the world of war journalism. Kirsten Dunst is an acting powerhouse and is supported well by the effortlessly charismatic Wagner Moura. Although, in many ways, the heart of the film is Cailee Spaeny. Beginning as a nervous newbie on the scene, her character’s arc is perhaps the most powerful. Each of these individuals offers a different perspective, allowing for the depiction of real people travelling through what can only be described as hell.

Accompanied by Rob Hardy in the cinematography department, Garland has once again proved to be a visual genius in the world of cinema. The fact that this movie is both stunningly beautiful and painful to look at is a testament to the way the filmmaker portrays truly disturbing images. Furthermore, the use of camera snapshots not only fits the journalistic side of the film but also allows us to be positioned within the perspective of the characters for the movie’s biggest sequences.

To be put off by Civil War due to its light approach to politics would be to not understand the film at all. More post-apocalyptic than an allegory of modern America, this movie succeeds due to its clear vision and world-class filmmaking. While Alex Garland seems to be taking a break from directing, one can only hope that the future consists of at least a few more features from this wonderful filmmaker.