FILM REVIEW: ‘Civil War’ handles national divisions with subtlety

Director Alex Garland’s latest portrays a divided United States as witnessed by a multigenerational group of journalists; but the politics of this speculative future are only told in clues and implications.

Movie director Alex Garland is known for films such as “Ex Machina,” “Annihilation” and “Men.” But with his latest movie “Civil War,” he decided to tell a story that lets the audience decide what is most important and leaves this writer to say, it’s his best work to date. 

The movie is set in near future America during a civil war as we follow a group of journalists chasing a story. The group consists of multi-generational views and experiences on the situation and still maintains an unbiased lens of the whole affair. 

“They’re representing different phases of life in response to the problems that they’re facing,” said Alex Garland during his interview on Q with Tom Power

There are plenty of films that tell an audience how and what to feel based on what is trying to be communicated. But Garland does an excellent job with only implicit clues to tell the viewer what is really going on in the film. 

I’ve watched it twice so far and I have to say, I’m ready to watch it again. It’s one of those movies that is rewatchable for the substance that is possesses. The film has heart, depth, humor, tragedy and by far some of the best social commentary I’ve seen in a while. And perhaps best of all, at least for me, it has some sort of nostalgia I can’t quite place. 

There are a few things that stood out to me, but for this article I’d like to point out the relationship between the main character, Lee Smith, played by Kirsten Dunst, and Jessie, played by Cailee Spaeny.  

Dunst plays a photographer who has taken pictures of some of the most gruesome wars and in her mind, she was warning America of what could happen when the truth is hidden from the public. Spaeny, plays Jessie, a young aspiring photographer wanting in on the action who doesn’t quite understand what she’s getting herself into. 

On one hand, we have a veteran photographer who, despite doing her job well, hasn’t seen the fruits of her labor in society changing. On the other hand, we have a wide-eyed rookie who believes change can happen and is ready to take the risks needed for the truth to come out. 

The film speaks to the soul in a powerful way and desires to give the audience almost an existential crisis to see the world around them and what is truly going on, and to not be swayed by what polarizing figures say but by the truth of what is happening in living history. 

Featured image caption: Kirsten Dunst in “Civil War.” Distributed by A24.

“Civil War” promotional poster. Distributed by A24.