© DCM Film Distribution GmbH

Civil War
U.S.A./U.K. 2024

Opening 18 Apr 2024

Directed by: Alex Garland
Writing credits: Alex Garland
Principal actors: Nick Offerman, Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Jefferson White, Nelson Lee

Writer-director Alex Garland’s screenplay conceptualizes a future Second American Civil War that the consummate cast realistically portray. Its perspective is the antithesis of what most expect; professional press corps veterans guide audiences onto the battle fields to experience the frightful effects of moral guidelines diminished to muddled versions of good/evil, sans respect or decency. For balance, the multi-award-winning documentary 20 Days in Mariupol by Ukrainian video-journalist Mstyslav Chernov and team for AP (Associated Press, established 1846) recently won the 2024 Oscar®.

A future president nervously waits to address the American people, while concurrently internecine conflicts, contentions, and fighting are raging at every level across the land. Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and Joel (Wagner Moura) are covering one such metropolitan melee when Lee helps a young photographer. Later at the upscale, media infested hotel she runs into the same woman. Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), a wannabe war photographer, tells Lee her idol, coincidentally, is the renowned photojournalist Lee Miller intimating the fortuitousness of their meeting. Too tired to care, Lee heads for bed as other correspondents banter and talk about how the President’s actions led to this. They all want to interview the President (Nick Offerman), Lee and Joel are determined to, and before the war, now in its dying days, ends. They have a plan. Jessie manages to finagle to ride along with them and the portly quintessential journalist Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson).

“You don’t want to miss this,” Sammy sagely advises Jessie the next morning as their car weaves among abandoned, mangled vehicles littering the major interstate highway. First Charlottesville, then Washington, D.C., eight hundred and fifty-seven miles away with an unknown no-man’s land in-between. They encounter the twilight zone surreal in one small town, and the sordidness of human actions at a gas station. Lee takes Jesse under her wing. When colleagues Tony (Nelson Lee) and Bohai (Evan Lai) pop up following, a little well-deserved roistering takes a mortal twist. Joel tries to talk sense with nationalist “soldiers” leader (Jesse Plemons) with demoralizing results. Closing in on their destination, Joel and Sammy notice that Lee’s wavering borders on a crisis.

Dunst and Spaeny’s performances demonstrate/compare the newcomer’s idealism and the grim gravity of the battle-scarred veteran, Moura and Henderson’s characters add perspective, gravitas. Caty Maxey’s dystopic production design, Rob Hardy’s cinematography, Jake Roberts’ editing, and Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s music graphically contribute to the film’s believability. Its many political overtones parallel current political shenanigans. Civil War, a tribute to war correspondents and photojournalists, is timely. (Marinell Haegelin)

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