May 20, 2024

Civil War 2024 Movie Review

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Civil War 2024 Movie Review

Let me start with: the discourse around this film is truly fascinating-and I think it’s incredible to read this some time after watching the movie. The trailers were kind of awful marketing imo. This is a character-driven story, but in the most tense way possible. Anything can happen at any moment, and the left swerves are constant. I have to stress that OH MY GOD you have to see this on the big screen! It’s one of the most immersive films I’ve ever seen-I wasn’t pulled out of it for even a second and it is so bloody beautiful!

I should not have loved this movie, but I did, because it has some truly wild universal implications-it’s not limited to the US at all. I had to take a long time to process this film, but I understand the breathless first reactions: this is not like anything I’ve seen before, for one particular reason. I also totally get the Apocalypse Now comparisons: now there’s another film that contradicted each impulse it put out. One might say that by nullifying itself it too was “empty”-but of course it wasn’t. This movie is pretty meta: what I think and say will say a lot about me and how I see the world. That’s super cool! But it’s not about war (outside of being an anti-war film). It’s about war journalism, and spectacle.

A lack of context might annoy people. And why? Well, frankly, because this is a movie that is opposed to American exceptionalism. It aggressively shoves your face in its sameness actually. It renders it banal; a war zone like any other country in another war film where most American viewers likely have little idea of the opposing parties or actors involved. Every gun shot is loud as hell, every explosion is far too much: spectacle, yes, and people ask “to what end?” I find it radical. One can make up five different backstories of how Texas and California seceded separately and then allied against a fascist President: but the only reason you’d have a problem with the fact that Civil War doesn’t tell you is because you’re too attached to the American-ness of it all. America? Depicted like any other? The cheek! Jesse Plemons’ character heavily evokes the Khmer Rouge. There’s so many other examples-they remind you of somewhere else (Vietcong references, Afghanistan/Iraq imagery, less domestic parallels than international ones tbh). I admire the provocation to us Americans, I really do. This film is about the spectacle of war and how it would look today: literally any war, anywhere, and here! And it’s using the most provocative, iconic setting to do that.

The performances are OFF THE WALL. Dunst is phenomenal, she’s the whole-ass movie! We’ve literally never seen this from her before, and damn, that range. One doesn’t doubt her as Lee, a veteran war photographer, for a moment, even though she barely says anything. It’s saying a lot that this is up there amongst her best work. Hell, it’s one of the best performances of this whole decade. The whole movie plays out through her reactions and tonally she’s pitched it perfectly. And Wagner Moura is almost equally brilliant (it could reasonably be considered a co-lead performance imo): his Joel is chaotic, wild, and hedonistic. The depiction of war journalists is so precise: the bizarre, adrenaline-fueling addiction that it seems to require. It’s devastating. The film explores the ethics of reporting: where it ends is not stated, but it is clear. In Moura’s scream, in Dunst’s eyes, in Stephen McKinley Henderson’s beautifully wise tone, and then in Spaeny’s reverse-mirroring her idol’s journey. The score was appropriately surreal, the needle-drops brilliant (deep cuts!), all the techs are undeniably in sync. None of this would’ve worked without this ensemble, and Dunst in particular. They’re not just the characters: they’re the whole point of the film.

One might ask: How stupid does Alex Garland have to be to make a film so pointedly open to all the criticism? He knows people will call it “empty”, lacking in a “political stance.” He knows people will find it bombastic, or that because we’re thrown into the deep end, no amount of character shading and performance work will prevent people from saying things like “thin characterization”. But Lee, Joel & Sammy (McKinley Henderson) are razor-sharp. Jessie (Spaeny) is the real enigma. I think for Garland, this setting was the only vehicle through which there might be an actual jolt, and he wasn’t wrong. The setting is familiar globally: what better setting to choose than the icons of a global superpower most people in the world are familiar with? This might seem like a step too far as comparison but people across the world were just as shocked as anyone when the towers went down on 9/11. Why? Because they wondered: it could happen there too? Really?! Garland’s somehow made a film that feels real enough to evoke that shock.

I kept thinking with every second I would soon say it’s exploitative. But this movie doesn’t allow any feel-good triumphalism. It’s dark & terrifying. This is the sheer dread and despair of war: there is no questioning that the film is staunchly anti-war: the cost of it all feels so palpable. The aesthetic of this film and the strong emotion it elicits-all clearly intended-is more than enough for me to run with. I would’ve definitely been annoyed if it had been too definitive. This is an anti-war, anti-exceptionalism film about the nature of telling the truth about war. It’s a masterpiece, it just is.

Civil War 2024 Movie Review