CIVIL WAR Displays Exceptional Filmmaking, But Its Story Lacks Bite

Alex Garland’s Civil War is a technical marvel, a testament to the art of filmmaking. It plunges the audience into the chaotic depths of war, a feat achieved through masterful cinematography, impeccable editing, breathtaking effects, and immersive sound design. However, the script leaves something to be desired. Garland’s story feels underdeveloped and not fully realized, leaving the audience craving for more. While the movie is a technical masterpiece, the narrative seems to lack a clear direction.

In a not-so-faraway future, a bloody and destructive civil war has rocked the United States for some time. The Western Forces, headed by California and Texas, seceded from the union and are close to defeating the U.S. forces and removing the president (Nick Offerman) from office. Seasoned war photojournalist Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and her reporter partner Joel (Wagner Moura) have been covering the violent battles and atrocities but are trying to interview the president before he falls.

During a break in the action, the two encounter rival/colleague Sammy (Stephen McKinley-Henderson) and the young and inexperienced Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), a photographer who aims to become a wartime photojournalist like Lee. Joel and Lee reluctantly allow the two to hitch a ride with them, as Sammy needs transportation to another destination along the way, and Jessie is hungry for experience. However, it proves to be an experience that will either make or break her.

Despite criticism of the movie’s writing, I was seriously blown away by the incredibly shot-and-cut war sequences. I respected Garland’s steadfast determination to present war violence and atrocities realistically. I must warn my readers that this movie is not for anyone who suffers from war PTSD. I can see this film can trigger traumatic memories. And this movie is most definitely not for young children.

While I understand that Garland was about recreating the war journalist experience, and the toll it takes on the mind, heart, and soul. However, this movie would have a more significant impact if it had some severe commentary about humanity other than the broad strokes it presents. The story doesn’t necessarily have to directly reflect our current political climate or mimic any actual political figures of this era. Still, Garland, for whatever reason, plays it way too safely to make a definitive mark on cinema with this movie.

Getting back to something more positive, I was riveted by the performances of the cast. Kirsten Dunst is outstanding as photojournalist Lee Smith. She perfectly embodies the trauma-damaged soul of a once hungry and passionate photographer. As the ideal counter to her character, Cailee Spaeny is phenomenal, as is Jessie, who is very green and inexperienced. While she has encountered some intense violence during the war, she has yet to see any real brutality. That is until she teams up with Lee and Joel. As expected, actor Stephen McKinley-Henderson is excellent as Sammy, a fatherly/grandfatherly figure to the group.

Civil War opens in theaters this weekend and is quite the movie. If you are looking for a fun popcorn flick, this is not the one to pick. Though it lacks bite in its commentary, it still packs a wallop in depicting the horrors of war.

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