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April 12, 2024 / Elevation Pictures

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Nick Offerman, Wagner Moura, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Cailee Spaeny

Directed By: Alex Garland

In the near future, after 19 states secede from the union, the United States find themselves in the midst of rapidly escalating civil war. While the President (Nick Offerman) appears to be stoking the flames of dissent, and a photographer (Kirsten Dunst) and a team of journalists finds themselves caught in war zones.

Written By Kurt Morrison - April 10, 2024

Rating 4.5 out of 5

At a time where political divide and tension are at an all-time high, writer-director Alex Garland's Civil War provides us with a peek through the looking glass with this gut punch interpretation of a country lost within its own borders. At its core though, it is a beautifully provocative and crafted tale of the importance of objective frontline journalism and that the desire by few to spread the word to many, is a gift we never give thanks for.

When Civil War's trailer hit back in early January, it felt like the internet exploded for a day. The concept of an American Civil War felt a little too..... close for comfort. People raised genuine concern that this could be something that could potentially happen in a not so distant American future.

And thennnnn the red vs blue, left vs right political ideologies took over social media.

'How could Texas and California ever be on the same side?!" .....

'This is liberal nonsense'....

'Texas and California would NEVER WORK TOGETHER'.


The internet judged the book by its cover, with unsurprisingly smashing form.

But as I sat and watched Civil War, I realized something very poignant. The film cares less about why particular sides or fronts have come together, or quite frankly what they want; all that is understood is that something has united people after an unspeakably awful act was taken out on American citizens by their own president; a President who has forced himself into a third term may I add. Insert the topic of Fascism within the walls of the White House, which is sure to become the hot topic of debate at this film’s release.

And with that, the movie became less of a War film and more of an exploration of the importance of freedoms, holding those in positions of power accountable, and the lengths at which few will go to make sure that truth and democratic policy are a universal language.

For any millennial out there, Kirsten Dunst has been a part of our movie going world for the better part of four decades now. Interview with a Vampire, Jumanji, the original Raimi Spider-man trilogy. It's a filmography that has created fond memories of the blue eyed, blonde haired girl next door, yet for a career with that kind of longevity, to see Dunst be able to pull off something different and new is a testament to how great of an actor she is.

Dunst's character Lee is grizzled and hardened; collateral damage to the career path she has chosen. She wears it a little bit in her eyes, as the tire and fatigue of the gig has gradually chipped away at her like a river running over a rock for centuries. She does not want to socialize, or seemingly be around other people. The job is her life.

And for a career that has garnered Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy nominations throughout, this is the pinnacle of it all and Dunst's best work to date. At 41 years old, Kirsten Dunst is just getting started and I am very excited to see what this Hollywood vet has in store next.

On the flipside of the female leads in Civil War, Cailee Spaeny plays Jessie - a young, eager, nieve photojournalist from Missouri, who forces her way into the journey that Lee (Dunst) and Joel (Wagner Moura) are on to Washington D.C., to exclusively interview the President before the rebel factions advance onto the capital. I had not seen Spaeny in anything but last year's Priscilla - a film that fell completely flat for me in terms of tone and execution. But Spaeny's performance was the one thing that came out of it, even with what little she got from Sophia Coppolla's script.

Fast Forward to Civil War and I have double booked down on my Cailee Spaeny stock.

At times, precocious and sweet as a puppy, Spaeny's descent into the gut of the conflicts and her ever growing keen eye for haunting war photography is the real standout in the film, and Garland's slow burn character development for Jessie excels thanks to Spaeny's performance. It's a big task to take on for the 25 year old, as it is the most physical and contrasting performance in the film but Spaeny is phenomenal from her first frame until the film's gripping final conclusion.

From a technical standpoint, for a film that cost only $50 million dollars, it looks and sounds magnificent and gripping. Garland's long time cinematographer Rob Hardy, who has worked with him on Ex Machina, Annihilation and the television show Devs, has incredible tact and accuracy in terms of keeping a looming sense of danger and claustrophobia through the film. Paired with the incredible sound design and soundtrack by Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury and their team, the realness of war comes across as hard and harshly as possible.

Challenging and smart blockbusters don’t come often in today’s moviemaking world, but A24, Elevation Pictures and writer-director Alex Garland have created a masterclass in filmmaking. With it’s blend of action, anxiety and unnerving imagery, Civil War’s ability to immerse the viewer into this not so alternate reality is both a finely tuned political statement as well as a warning sign that scares you with its nightmarish moments and post film thought processes instead of its politics - which are a testament to its phenomenal pacing. It’s smart, compelling and will remain near the top of my list for 2024.

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