Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



Directed by Alex Garland.

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny, Wagner Moura, Stephen Mckinley Henderson.

Science-Fiction, US, 109 minutes, certificate 15.


Released in cinemas in the UK 11th April by Entertainment Film Distributors.


The otherwise familiar sight of American cityscapes is marred by plumes of black smoke pouring upwards into the sky. On the streets below, tanks sit stationary at the traffic lights, the highways are choked with abandoned cars, the shells of burnt-out helicopters lie in the middle of the JC Penney’s parking lot and the Wi-Fi keeps dropping out. Welcome to Alex Garland’s vision of a war-torn America where what once was a fantastical conceit seems disturbingly plausible through the writer/directors’ English lens, with his tale of a band of journalists and photographers travelling across a war torn dis-united states.


We are kept in the dark as to precisely how the country has gone to Hell in a hand basket. Details are sparse but we find ourselves in a situation with an unnamed, yet very familiar, president, in his third term after disbanding the FBI, is under siege from the Western Forces, a coalition between Texas and California. Rumours are flying that the end of the war may be in sight, triggering a journey to Washington for renowned war photographer Lee and reporter Joel. Deciding to take a young inexperienced photographer, Jessie, and elderly journalist Sammy along, they witness the scars of a divided nation. At once a playground for trigger happy militias and seemingly idyllic small towns trying their best to keep themselves at a distance from the immediate reality, we also witness how hardened Lee has become after recording several atrocities in foreign wars, now becoming a near dispassionate observer in her own country, now only caring about capturing the next shot.


A pulse pounding slice of speculative fiction while also a satisfying commentary on the desensitisation of how we consume the media surrounding war, this sees Garland in a more grounded manner than his previous film, the surreal and bonkers MEN, and delivering perhaps his most satisfying film to date. Recently saying that he now intends to step back from directing, this is certainly a high note to bow out on. Kirsten Dunst, an underrated actress since her Spider-Man days, turns in one of her strongest performances to date getting the all too rare chance to take centre stage here. Her fellow cast members also impress; Wagner Moura’s thrill-seeking journalist alongside Stephen Mckinley Henderson and Cailee Spaeney, both returning to collaborate with Garland after his TV series DEVS, as respectively a more seasoned journalist and photographer who hero worships Lee, all deliver excellent performances of observers’ neck deep in a situation they now struggle to distance themselves from.


While never tipping over into full on pulp blockbuster tropes the film still manages to deliver a rattling and thunderous closing act. Recalling the likes of CHILDREN OF MEN with its juxtaposition of epic scale yet realistic action set against recognisable backdrops, the film manages to excite and deliver on a purely visceral level. How such set pieces land in its own home country may have even more of an impact than over here, particularly in an election year which seems to threaten more division than before. Succeeding in both capturing the epic action that its premise suggests and intimate character work that is every bit as engaging, CIVIL WAR is both troublingly relevant and tremendously exciting.


Iain MacLeod.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans