[Courtesy of A24]

Movie Review: Civil War

07:00 April 15, 2024
By: Fritz Esker

Civil War (2024)

A group of journalists go on an extremely dangerous road trip across war-torn America in writer/director Alex Garland's Civil War, which is the best film of 2024 so far.

Kirsten Dunst plays Lee, a hardened photojournalist traveling with Joel (Wagner Moura). A rebel army is likely to seize Washington, D.C. soon from a president (Nick Offerman) who clung to power for more than two terms and has performed airstrikes on American citizens. Lee and Joel want to secure an interview with him before he's inevitably deposed and executed. An older journalist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and an aspiring young photographer (Cailee Spaeny) also tag along for the ride.

Garland is British, and while the movie's description of a Texas/California alliance will likely unite Biden, Trump, and RFK Jr. supporters in laughter, the logistics of the alliances really don't matter. The movie isn't interested in that nor is it interested in ideology or political speeches. It's more concerned about what happens when society breaks down (a theme also explored in Garland's script for 28 Days Later), as well as the hell combat journalists become accustomed to and almost addicted to (almost like a journalist take on The Hurt Locker).

In a landscape like this, every encounter has the potential for violence. But there are also places like a town that seems determined to do its best to carry on as if nothing crazy is happening outside of it. The movie's also honest enough to make viewers realize that while that might seem crazy, the horrors going on outside are so brutal, it's understandable that people would do their best to tune it out.

Among the performers, Dunst deserves praise for her performance as a world-weary photographer. She is determined to bear witness to the world's atrocities, but it has clearly taken a toll. The light went out of her eyes a long time ago, and it's never coming back. Henderson, a veteran character actor, also does strong work as an aging journo determined to keep doing his work even though he really is too old for it (he walks with a cane, which is a liability when confronted by violent men).

Civil War also reminded me, in a way, of an underrated and mostly forgotten 1992 film called The Public Eye (starring Joe Pesci). That's a noir story about a crime scene photographer. It's worth a look, as are Garland's novels The Beach and The Tesseract. But definitely check out Civil War in theaters.

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