Thu | Jun 20, 2024

‘Civil War’ – a war story without heroes

Published:Tuesday | April 16, 2024 | 12:08 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
This image released by A24 shows Cailee Spaeny (left) and Kirsten Dunst in a scene from ‘Civil War’.
This image released by A24 shows Cailee Spaeny (left) and Kirsten Dunst in a scene from ‘Civil War’.

In times like these the nightly news doesn’t provide much comfort. In largely every area there seem to be drastic and existential threats. For many, the cinema will be a means of escape, a chance to be transported into a world where problems are resolved at the end of a two hour runtime. Unless of course you go and see Alex Garland’s Civil War, which presents a bleak and hopeless future that may hit too close to home.

Civil War posits a nation in conflict, but it doesn’t quite define what created the divided states of America. Instead of putting audiences in war rooms, the film finds its heroes in the form of the Fourth Estate – journalists who wish to capture the war on the front lines. The phrase hero, though, isn’t always a fitting description as Civil War has protagonists that will make you question rooting for them.

As objective observers to the travesty that surrounds them, the band of truth tellers are devoted to remaining impartial. Their experiences in covering war far from their shores made this an easier feat. Now with the fighting at their doorstep, their distance makes them feel complicit. You will watch as their own countrymen engage in horrifying acts, and rather than help their fellow citizens, the characters are more concerned with the lighting of their photos.

The unease in watching these characters is Civil War’s entire point. You’re meant to seek comfort in their presence, hoping for their triumphant victory against the forces of darkness. Instead, what you’ll find is the cold, unfeeling apathy that’s both a response to the hopelessness of their situation and a result of years of witnessing atrocities.

As the characters make their trek through the states, they come across beautiful American vistas marred by death and destruction. Their lives are in danger more than once, and how they process it is different every time. At some points they’re consumed by adrenaline, living for the thrill, at others, devastated and unable to function. Civil War doesn’t glorify war, nor does it attempt to oversimplify it in a classic narrative. Instead, it creates incredible tension in its exploration of maintaining impartiality in the face of overwhelming violence.

Its visuals are striking and its characters are complicated. Civil War wisely shies away from the lore of its federal squabble and instead focuses on giving you an unadulterated view of everything. Its characters are the perfect vessel, giving little to no perspective on the rights and wrongs but are immeasurably affected by what they witness. Its emphasis on the importance of truth in recording history is well communicated and compounded by a question of just how ethically it can be done.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Damian Levy is a reviewer and podcaster for