Keep up-to-date on your favourite artists and movies, track gig and release dates, and join in the conversation.
review, Civil War, Civil, War, film, movie, latest movies, new movie, movie ratings, current movie reviews, latest films, recent movies, current movies, movie critics, new movie reviews, latest movie reviews, latest movies out, the latest movies, review film, latest cinema releases, Australian reviews, home entertainment, DVD, Blu-ray film rating



By Charlie David Page
10th April 2024

The events that took place on the 6th of January 2021 on the United States Capitol cannot be understated. They are the closest we have come in our lifetimes to seeing one of the leading global countries fall into ruin - not for what would have happened had rioters managed to seize control, but for the simple fact that democracy gave way to chaos. Nine people senselessly died as a result of the attack - including four police officers who later died by suicide - and around 150 officers were injured that day.

An occurrence like this can offer us a glimpse into an alternate universe; what might take place if the powder keg of politics in the U.S. were to combust? Alex Garland's ('Ex Machina', '28 Days Later') new film 'Civil War' takes this idea one step further, offering us a front-row seat to the horrors should the United States erupt politically - along with the human suffering and unspeakable wickedness that would thrive as a result.

We are dropped into the middle of violent conflict with war photographer Lee Miller (Kirsten Dunst, 'The Power of the Dog', 'Melancholia') - she's used to photographing conflict-affected African countries or war-torn nations across Asia... but this is her home; this is the United States, united no longer as California and Texas take on Washington. She's working alongside Joel (Wagner Moura, 'Elysium', TV's 'Narcos'), who decide there's one last story to be told - hearing the President's point of view, after his media blackout for months. So along with veteran journalist Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson, 'Dune', 'Lady Bird') and budding photographer Jessie (Cailee Spaeny, 'Priscilla', 'On the Basis of Sex'), they head towards the White House - but will they make it to D.C. alive to get the exclusive interview they're after?


There's no beginning to this tale, no clear explanation as to what's behind the conflict tearing the U.S. apart, and this benefits the film for two key reasons. Firstly, it keeps the film to a swift 109 minutes - which is plenty of time for it to be both phenomenally epic and extraordinarily intimate. Yet secondly, and possibly most importantly, it makes the film timeless, taking it out of the current political agenda and making it relevant at practically any given moment. This in turn does something incredibly expedient - it takes a great film and turns it into a modern classic.

What's so invaluable is that, rather than spending just shy of two hours with soldiers on one side of the conflict with an agenda to pursue, we're paired with a team of journalists, and asked to view this nightmarish situation through their lens. They're not here to force upon us one aspect of what's happening; rather, simply to capture the unthinkable occurrences as they encounter them. The country they knew is no more, and violence and cruelty rule outright. As Lee woefully muses at one point, all of the wars she covered abroad and sent photos back were meant to be something of a warning about this exact thing.

As is 'Civil War' itself. As such, it doesn't shy away from a realism to its violence; there are no glossy Marvel fight scenes to be found here. Instead, conflict is at close quarters, uncompromising, and all too often, devastatingly personal. There's no time to mourn or process, simply survive or die. Some scenes show the worst of humanity on full display, revealing evil as the face of someone so seemingly ordinary, yet thriving on heinous acts amid a countrywide cesspool of death and misery.

One scene which I'm specifically referencing is something of a turning point for the film. It's a time where common decency and rules go completely out the window; where the protection offered by decreeing "PRESS" on a badge or flak jacket utterly disintegrates. This scene is a landmark one for Wagner Moura, whose performance here perhaps exceeds any other throughout the film. Combining a sense of duty to protect Jessie with a natural fight-or-flight instinct while pitted against an unstable adversary (a fleeting yet unforgettable character portrayed by Jesse Plemons, 'Killers of the Flower Moon', 'Game Night'), it's an emotional and traumatic encounter which echoes reality as recently as the atrocities carried out two years ago in Bucha, Ukraine.

Conflict is at close quarters, uncompromising, and all too often, devastatingly personal. There's no time to mourn or process, simply survive or die. Some scenes show the worst of humanity on full display.

The film is also a monumental effort for Dunst, who's not been this impressive for a long while. Lee is our guide through this abhorrent mess - though even with all her experience, she feels deeply weary. We're trusting of her because we see her navigate these situations with ease, yet her grittiness and brutal candour, particularly with Jessie, remind us the reason for that ease is because of her exposure to extensive death and destruction. With little in the way of hair, make-up or costume to flatter, Dunst has little to hide behind, allowing her character to appear in perfect symmetry with the carnage. To her credit and the credit of the team behind the scenes, as much screen time is given to her dialog as the moments of silence, of contemplation, of concern, of dread.

However, the crowning glory for 'Civil War' must go to writer/director Garland. This is an impeccable piece of work, one which cannot have been easy to envisage nor execute, but an important cinematic effort that goes far past being a dystopian tale. While A24's marketing monopolises on it in order to take advantage of a bigger box office, we're cleverly not offered a war film, but instead a film about the effects of war - a fine yet crucial difference, and one that's inevitably more affecting.

This impact is only further amplified by the editing and sound. We see what the photographers see with each snap - a moment frozen in time capturing its beauty, or brutality, or both. This becomes a powerful technique early on, but a vital one the further into the conflict we go - not only are we shown the photo but all sound drops away, offering a moment of absolute poignant stillness for the entire cinema to take in... and then fall back into the thick of it, sometimes mid-word, sometimes mid-explosion, jolting us back into the all-engulfing combat.

How do you measure the value of a human life? 'Civil War' would suggest that its value is in bringing about a positive change. It's easy to sit back - particularly from the comfort of Australia - and ignore much of what's going on around the world; the changes that have happened in the United States recently regarding abortion, LGBTIQA+ rights, immigration, greater racial divides, greater widening of the wealth gap, increased blurring of lines between church and state, increased gun rights. To think that another four years of Donald Trump would be an amusing outcome at the 2024 U.S. Presidential election would be an extraordinarily shortsighted perspective. The country is horrifically fractured, and the harsh realism of 'Civil War' only goes to show why it's so vital to do something about it.

RELEASE DATE: 11/04/2024
RUN TIME: 03h 15m
CAST: Jesse Plemons
Cailee Spaeny
Kirsten Dunst
Nick Offerman
Wagner Moura
Sonoya Mizuno
Alexa Mansour
Stephen McKinley Henderson
Jefferson White
Karl Glusman
© 2011 - 2024 SWITCH.
All rights reserved

Support SWITCH | Disclaimer | Contact Us!