Civil War Movie Review: "What American are you?" I don't think I've heard a more chilling line in recent times. Replace "American" with your nationality; imagine your country torn apart by the struggle between fascism and those resisting it. Imagine your own compatriots questioning how 'Indian' you are. You don't need to imagine? Well, that's what makes Alex Garland's Civil War so easy to relate to, yet I felt terrified to do so. Civil War Trailer: Kirsten Dunst Stars in This Dystopian Action Thriller Showcasing Worn-Torn America.

Civil War may not be the best work from the director of films like Ex Machina, Annihilation, and Men, but it may be his most accessible film, perhaps deliberately designed to be so. Alex Garland also wrote 28 Days Later, and you can see shades of the Danny Boyle film here. Our main heroes embark on a road trip across the country for an uncertain purpose, navigating desolate highways strewn with abandoned vehicles and corpses. There are no zombies in sight, true, but the humans continue to be horrific.

In a near-future scenario (whether alternate or prophesied, the interpretation is yours), the USA finds itself embroiled in a civil war following the re-election of its fascist President (Nick Offerman) for a third term. States across the nation have risen in rebellion against the central government, with the insurgent Western Forces engaging in fierce clashes with government militias at numerous flashpoints. Amidst this turmoil, Lee (Kristen Dunst), a seasoned war photographer, and her colleague Joel (Wagner Moura) find themselves documenting the riots in Brooklyn when an unexpected opportunity arises: an interview with the President in Washington, DC.

Watch the Trailer of Civil War:

Setting out on a lengthy journey to the nation's capital, they are accompanied by Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a veteran journalist and their mentor, who seeks to visit Charlottesville along the way.  Also joining their expedition is Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), a fledgling photojournalist, whose presence prompts Lee, initially reluctant, to assume the role of mentor to this inexperienced newcomer. As they traverse the miles, the harrowing experiences they encounter along the road leave an indelible mark, forever altering their lives for better or for worse.

A Still From Civil War

Civil War's detractors are labelling it as propaganda against Trump and his followers, and I concur with them. However, Civil War doesn't take sides by portraying those fighting against Trump as heroes. Instead, the film places its protagonists amidst the turmoil, where they encounter horror and violence from both perspectives.

A Still From Civil War

The evolving relationship between Lee, disillusioned by what she captures, and Jessie, who undergoes a transformation from a novice photographer horrified by the violence to an enthusiastic shutterbug eager to capture the best shots, is convincingly portrayed. This dynamic serves to flesh out both characters while imbuing the narrative with a humane touch, shaped by the events they witness along the way. Kirsten Dunst and Cailee Spaeny deliver spot-on performances. Priscilla Movie Review: Cailee Spaeny's Star-Making Turn Empowers Sofia Coppola's Middling Biopic of Priscilla Presley.

A Still From Civil War

However, it's THE Jesse Plemons scene that elevates the intensity of Civil War to a higher level and significantly disrupts the status quo. The former Breaking Bad alumnus (and real-life partner of Kirsten Dunst) has carved a niche for himself by portraying detestable characters, and his role here bears a strong resemblance to the neo-Nazi Todd Alquist from Breaking Bad. The chilling depiction of the scene and the actor's performance not only unsettles the viewer but also offers a glimpse into the terrifying implications of the rise of ultranationalism prevalent today. The image of Jesse crawling over a stack of dead bodies, appearing utterly horrified, lingers in the mind, as does a usually composed Joel's utterly traumatised reaction in the car, expertly portrayed by Wagner Moura.

A Still From Civil War

The final act of Civil War thrusts the protagonists and the audience into the midst of a military coup, depicted with close-quarters intensity that lends alarming realism to the proceedings. Such scenes are typically associated with American movies depicting military interventions in other nations, such as Zero Dark Thirty, so it feels surreal to witness a filmmaker reverse the scenario to serve an admonitory tale of choosing an ultra-right-wing bigot to power. Oh, there is a side chosen after all.

Final Thoughts on Civil War

With Civil War, Alex Garland delivers a cautionary tale about how the rise of fascism can tear a country apart without overtly framing it as a simple good versus bad conflict. The performances are highly commendable, particularly those of Dunst and Moura, while Jesse Plemons steals the show with a chilling cameo. Though the setting is the United States, the warning message resonates globally and could even strike a chord with a nation on the brink of an election that will determine its fate as the 'world's largest democracy'.


(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Apr 19, 2024 10:30 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website