Film review by Cliff Homewood

This film reminds of the storming of Capitol Hill, it was clear Trump could easily become a Dictator. Civil War starts with a glorifying speech from the President.  Although kept generic the speech does use the Trumpism of calling things Great. Writer/Director Alex Garland stated, ‘Then it would be an issue that only related to this country, but it’s not. You can see it right now playing out in Israel. You can see it happening in Asia, in South America, Europe. You can see it in my own country.’ Alex Garland is an Englishman, writer of screenplays for films like 28 Days Later and Dredd. He became a Writer/Director with Ex Machina but we have to hang a wreath on his directing career as he plans to return to just writing. Although he kept politics to a minimum in Civil War they do go through Charlottesville, infamous for its 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ white supremacist rally which probably inspired him.

The big question I wrestled with was is this Science Fiction? Answer: Yes, it is. Warnings of possible futures is the domain of SF. If you want to know where the science is, try soft sciences like sociology. Alex Garland says it’s a companion piece to Men, but don’t hold that against it.  ‘A sci-fi allegory for our currently polarized predicament.’

Civil War is a road movie where they move from one awkward situation to another.  Our heroes are journalists that traverse the land to get to DC for an interview with the President. Recommended is a real-life equivalent, a television crew were filming President Chavez (Venezuela) when a coup happens, managing to capture it on film.  The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (aka Inside the Coup), is available on YouTube. Journalists have to pay a price, staying detached to do their job. Alex Garland grew up around journalists, his dad being a political cartoonist. He portrays the quandary of their ethics well.

‘I said to someone who works in the film industry, “I want to make a film about journalists where journalists are the heroes.” They said, “Don’t do that, everyone hates journalists.” That has a really deep problem contained within it. Saying you hate journalists is like saying you hate doctors. You need doctors. It’s not really a question of you like or don’t like journalists, you need them,’ states Alex Garland, ‘one of the biggest checks and balances you have on government is the press. But the press needs to be trusted for that to work.’

The fact a Civil War is going on keeps the film tense for most its run time and can get intense where any of our characters could die any minute.  Racism does rear its ugly head. Our heroes are shown as real people.  It’s very realistic, from Stephen McKinley’s friendly old man to Cailee Spaeny’s young hopeful. Kirsteen Dunst’s Lee is a war journalist, hardened by her experiences. Her husband, Jesse Plemons, was a last-minute replacement when an actor dropped out and he steals the movie. The film feels like it could easily be being played out in a different country as a lot of locations look as generic as a parade of shops.  It’s a shame American brands like McDonalds would not want to be in a film like this as the Big M would make some great imagery surrounded by the battle of a civil war. As shown recently in Annihilation Alex Garland as Director can provide some astounding visuals, he does here, notably as they drive through a forest fire with embers beautifully falling around them reminiscent of Grave of Fireflies.

Civil War reminds me of similar apocalyptic road movies like The Road and Children of Men.  Whilst this is a good movie it’s not quite Children of Men good. Instead of the usual South vs North divide the film has Western Forces uprising. It appears to have worked as Civil War is A24’s most expensive film and also the one that opened with the biggest box office weekend.  A24 is a studio to watch, they specialise in making quirky films like Everything Everywhere All at Once.