Thursday, April 11, 2024

Civil War (2024) - Movie Review

The Movie: Civil War

The Director: Alex Garland

The Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman

The Story: A journey across a dystopian future America, following a team of military-embedded journalists as they race against time to reach DC before rebel factions descend upon the White House.

The Rating: 8 / 10

The Review:
Alex Garland is one of the smartest directors working today. His resume speaks for itself with an impressive lineup of films under his belt including Ex Machina and Annihilation and I would say that this latest effort doesn't do anything to change my mind on that. This story is less about the potential pitfalls of technilogical advances and more about the state of a country that has been teetering on dangerous grounds for quite some time. While the movie never gets overtly political in the context of what we are living today, it is ultimately a conversation on a near future that could easily play out in real life.

I really like the fact that the reality of the politics in the story do not mirror real life as that allows the viewer to see things without all of that baggage built into it. Not only are there are real issues with the American political machine when it comes to serving its people, there is also more and more of an idealogical divide among the people and that is on full display in this movie. There is such a wide range of agendas that play out from all the people we see over the course of the movie, I hope that audiences can see just how propoganda and programming play such a huge role in shaping people's lives into such distinct and varied realities.

Given that as a foundation, there's a disturbing undercurrent of tension that exists throughout the film because so much of it hits close to home and Garland does everything he can to emphasize this at every turn. The imagery, the sounds, the music, and the conversations all feel uncomfortably real and choosing the perspective of a team of journalists is a perfect way to get the audience as close to the action as possible in as visceral and emotional way as possible. When shots are fired, you can almost feel the bullets whiz by and when soldiers yell out orders, you want to duck and cover as soon as possible.

For the most part, the casting of this movie is pretty spot on and if you're not familiar with who Wagner Moura is then I would highly recommend you check out the two films that put him on the map as an actor, Elite Squad and Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within. Based on those two movies alone, I can see why Garland would want the actor to be a part of this particular movie. He does a great job of balancing some highly emotional scenes with a few of the more light hearted and genuinely funny moments which are quite honestly very much needed with everything else going on.

As good as Moura is in the movie, I was not nearly as impressed with Kirsten Dunst as a battle hardened and time tested war photographer. I get what she was trying to do but unfortantely, she just wasn't very interesting, even as her character also took on a mentor role to Cailee Spaeny's young and ambitious photographer. Spaeny and Moura have better on screen chemistry and I would have liked to see their interactions fleshed out even more than they few glimpses we were given.

To round out the road trip squad, Stephen McKinley Henderson is on board as the been there done that and seen it all veteran reporter who often acts as a voice of reason for the rest of the characters and, as always, I really enjoyed his contribution. Also, I have to mention that Sonoya Mizuno is in this movie which is cool because she has been in just about every project Garland has made. Remember the dancing scene in Ex Machina? That was her busting funky moves with Oscar Isaac. Maybe I'm just being a fanboy but the few moments she has on screen were more interesting to me than what Dunst was bringing to the table and I kinda wish her character had been the one leading the way.

If you've watched the trailer for the movie, you already know that Jesse Plemons plays a super creepy and intensely dangerous character and, while I would have loved to have seen more of the actor's performance, I think it's a very good thing that Garland doesn't show us more of what the character is capable of. Just like in the trailer, this is one of the most nerve wracking scenes in the movie and the director uses it to drive home a lot of the points he is trying to make.

For me, the biggest drawback of the movie is that I left the movie feeling like there was still a lot more that could have been told. As it was, Garland repeats a similar story beat multiple times just framed in a slightly different way. Yes, we get that the civil war itself has created pockets of extremists in nearly every town or city in the country but showing that multiple times over just got redundant for me. Especially when there was plenty of opportunity to take a deeper dive into the impacts of the war and also to explore things a bit more from the government's perspective.

Ultimately, Civil War is an intensely engaging theatrical experience even as it falls just a bit short of what I was hoping for and what I expected from Garland as a director. That being said, I would still highly recommend it, especially as a big screen spectacle type movie that you have to see on the biggest screen you can find with the best sound system available. I was able to see it in the IMAX format which for me, just added to the immersive nature of the movie itself so definitely go that route if you are able.

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