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“Civil War” Will Leave You Shell Shocked

Photo credit: IMDb

“Civil War” debuted on April 12, 2024 and is the latest in A24’s critically acclaimed catalog of ambitious films. While the mixed reviews might lead some to believe this film isn’t worth watching, I’m here to tell you that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I was extremely interested to see this because of the subject matter and the talent involved. Unlike a lot of A24 films, “Civil War” is massive in both its scope and budget of $50 million according to IMDb. For reference, most A24 films sit below a budget of $10 million according to The Numbers. The film is also helmed by the one and only Alex Garland, director of “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation,” and in my opinion, one of the most conceptually creative directors working today.

This is one of the most well-made anti-war films I’ve ever seen. The pacing and directing of this film is pitch perfect. From beginning to end I was locked in. If someone told me the movie was only 45 minutes long, I would believe them.

My ears were greeted by some of the best sound design I’ve ever experienced. This movie’s like a simulator for getting shot in the head. There will be long periods of quiet, followed by some of the most ear-splitting gunshots and explosions I’ve ever heard in a theater.

The look of this film suits the story so well. Most of the cinematography is very documentary-esque, broken up by short cinematic scenes of drama. There’s also barely any score aside from some unsettling drones at key moments, which adds to the immersion.

The acting is also superb. Kirsten Dunst’s character in this film is a far cry from Mary Jane Watson. She’s someone with a very stoic demeanor who’s been documenting this war for years, and you get a sense that the fulfillment she derives from her job is overpowered by the emotional toll she’s undergone from watching America tear itself apart. It’s eaten away at her soul and Dunst communicates all of this misery purely through facial expressions and body language.

Between this film and “Priscilla”, Cailee Spaeny proves she has a lot of range. She’s a rather quiet actress, but her performance as an eager yet naïve photojournalist fits so well with the realism this film goes for.

All of these factors coalesce into such a mesmerizing experience. Depicting a war on American soil helps with that too, but still I’ve never experienced a war film quite like this before.

I also found it appealing that the characters were journalists since I aspire to be one, and the film frames their involvement in conflict through a realistic yet objective lens. Horrible things are happening in front of the character’s eyes, yet their main concern is to simply capture it from a neutral perspective. The whole time you’re begging the characters to adopt a morally sound stance on the conflict at hand, but sacrificing that neutrality would put the characters in actual danger, or so you think.

This film has a really brilliant way of communicating how objectivity won’t protect you from the repercussions of war. In a conflict as disorganized as the one depicted in this film, everybody dies whether you’re fighting or not.

Or at least that’s what I gleaned from it. Just as the characters document the war from an objective lens, the film simply presents a conflict and allows the audience to come to their own conclusions about the actions of those involved.

I love “Annihilation”, but this film gets straight to the point and it might just be my new favorite from Alex Garland.

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“Civil War” Will Leave You Shell Shocked