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Review: Civil War



In Alex Garland's "Civil War," the setting is a near-future United States plunged into violent chaos. The film drops viewers into the midst of this turmoil without explaining its origins, focusing instead on the visceral experience of societal breakdown from the viewpoint of war journalists. The film specifically follows war photographer Lee Smith, played with depth by Kirsten Dunst, as she embarks on a perilous journey to document the unfolding crisis.

The film presents a grim vision of journalism as a form of amoral adventure-seeking, with the protagonists risking their lives to capture the horrors of war. Dunst's portrayal of Lee, a hardened professional grappling with PTSD, adds emotional depth to the story. Alongside her are Joel, a reporter with an adrenaline seeking streak, and Jessie, an idealistic newcomer who undergoes a traumatic education in the realities of conflict reporting. Their journey through a war-torn landscape is depicted with nauseating intensity, using shaky camerawork and deafening gunshot sounds to immerse viewers in the chaos.


Garland's film raises questions about the role of journalists in wartime and the moral dilemmas they face. However, it struggles to provide clear answers or a coherent commentary on contemporary issues. The lack of political specificity may frustrate some viewers, but the film's focus on the visceral experience of war is undeniably effective. It forces audiences to confront the brutal realities of conflict and the ethical challenges of bearing witness to human suffering.


Garland uses needle-drops to serve as a dissonant backdrop to the chaos unfolding on screen. With a soundtrack that reminds viewers of many Vietnam films, the film creates a sense of psychological disconnect. This discordant choice amplifies the unsettling atmosphere, underscoring the film's themes of desensitization and moral ambiguity. The music becomes another layer of the sensory experience, adding to the film's visceral impact and leaving a haunting impression on the audience long after the credits roll.


Despite its vague message, "Civil War" succeeds in bringing the devastation of war home, reminding viewers that such horrors are already a reality for many around the world. The film's disorienting portrayal of a fractured society on the brink of collapse is both disturbing and thought-provoking. While it may not offer easy answers, its immersive depiction of urban warfare leaves a lasting impression, challenging audiences to grapple with the complexities of journalistic ethics and the human cost of conflict.


3.5/5

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