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‘Civil War’ by A24 Movie Review

Apr 20, 2024 | Admit One

What kind of American are you?

This is the pivotal question asked during Alex Garland’s latest film, Civil War, a provocative thriller examining the fractured landscape of America during a hypothetical second American civil war. The movie was advertised with the slogan ALL EMPIRES FALL, leaving many afraid it would capitalize on the polarized landscape of American politics and push sensitive buttons for a nation still on edge.

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Trailer:

Release Date: 04/12/2024
Director: Alex Garland
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
IMDb: 7.8/10
Where to Watch: In theaters

Fortunately, this is not the case. When the film starts, the civil war is already well underway, and the events that sparked it are left mostly unexplained

The movie is not aligned with one political ideology or another but asks the audience to view its narrative through the lens of a universal American identity that crosses party lines. Political factions in the film are drawn into four deliberately fantastic coalitions of states: the Loyalists, the Western Forces, the Florida Alliance, and the New People’s Army.

The major incident that sparked the war: a rogue president has broken the 22nd Amendment and secured a third term in office. That’s all we know about the cause of the war, and all we need to know.

The story follows veteran war photographer Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and a handful of journalists aiming to interview the president before he is captured or killed

Joining her is Jessie, a twenty-three-year-old who intends to follow in her footsteps and become a recognized photojournalist. In a sequence of events that might best be compared to the 2006 film Children of Men, Smith and her team travel from New York to Washington, navigating the war-torn American landscape and the dangers its armed militias pose.

The audience is asked to view this fictional conflict through the objective lens of the camera, seeing hostile combatants not as representative of the factions they ally with… but as individuals, taking individual actions rooted in their own psychologies.

One particularly memorable line is uttered by a sniper the main characters come across after taking fire on a farm littered with neglected Christmas decorations. One of the protagonists asks the sniper what side they’re fighting for, to which he responds: “No one’s giving us orders, man. Someone’s trying to kill us. We’re trying to kill them.”

This through-line in the film asks us to question what it would take for American citizens to take up arms against each other in the modern age, where conflicts are no longer divided along clear boundaries

Director Alex Garland, an Englishman, said during an interview at SXSW: “America has a history of civil war that was very delineated over a clear issue of slavery…

But there are other kinds of civil wars, which happen a lot in the world at the moment, which are really just a fracturing.” He followed this up with: “I chose America because everybody looks to America. But the things [the movie is] talking about are quite global.”

Civil War may be an instant classic in the war film genre, a modern-day Heart of Darkness told across familiar American landscapes that will prompt conversation and—perhaps—a greater sense of unity under the flag we all share. It’s a stark vision of a future all can agree it would be best to avoid.


About our Admit One Author

Isaac Albert Frankel

Isaac Frankel is a freelance writer and content creator specializing in reviews and analysis of cinema, interactive media, and mythological storytelling. He was raised in Prescott, AZ, wrote his first non-fiction book in 2013 after graduating from Tribeca Flashpoint College with a degree in Game & Interactive Media Design, and currently produces content for the YouTube channel: Off Screen.

More of his work and current projects can be found at www.isaacafrankel.com.