CIVIL WAR (2024)

Genre: Action/Thriller
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman
Runtime: 1 hr 49 mins
Rating: NC16 (Coarse Language and Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 10 April 2024

Synopsis: An adrenaline-fueled thrill ride through a near-future fractured America balanced on the razor’s edge.

Movie Review:

The national flag of the United States we are familiar with has 50 stars, representing the 50 US states. But the American flag we see in this dystopian movie only has two stars. It is a jarring sight, and this poignantly sets the premise of this movie that may be more heart pounding than any other action flick you’ll see this year.

Directed and written by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), we are introduced to a United States that is engulfed by an ugly civil war. The country is under the dictatorship of its President (Nick Offerman), whom we see practising his lines for a public broadcast when the movie first starts.

Enter a veteran photojournalist Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and her journalist colleague Joel (Wagner Moura), who plan to drive across the country to Washington in their press vehicle to interview the President before the rebel troops make their advance into the capital. They are joined by a young photographer Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), as well as Lee and Joel’s senior mentor Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson).

It sounds like a road trip filled with drama and action, especially with Lee disapproving of Jessie’s presence. Maybe the hardened photojournalist thinks that the rookie isn’t ready for the cruelties of war, or perhaps she is just looking out for a fellow human being. The dynamics between the two female characters are handled sensitively by Garland, and it doesn’t feel like an obligatory part of the story. Lee and Jessie progressively build a bond that’s believably earnest.

Garland, who explored other agonisingly relevant themes as a writer in thrillers like The Beach (2000) and 28 Days Later (2002), has painted a terrifying picture in his latest work. With an efficient runtime of 109 minutes, the movie demands you to be on the ball like its protagonists as they stop at different locations along their journey. What they experience are shocking, bloody and even terrifying. The movie makes you feel like you are dodging bullets with the characters as they are put right smack in the middle of the action with ear deafening explosions and gun shots. Watching it on an IMAX screen will definitely enhance the experience.

Seeing the protagonists in action makes you think about the role of war photographers and journalists. Are their roles limited to documenting the war amidst the casualties and fatalities? What does it take to capture a moment before a solider gets shot in the head, and what does it cost to write an article detailing the horror of war? These unsettling questions are not new, and Garland’s movie makes you look at the chaos and terror close up, while you formulate your own opinions.

The finale of the movie sees the characters making it to the White House, and the sequence is surrealistically intense. Viewers with high blood pressure may want to get yourselves mentally prepared for the pulsating climax.

The American Civil War took place over four years from 1861 to 1865. Is the movie foreshadowing what the world will be forced to face in the near future? It is a shuddering yet important thought, as we continue to grapple with the realities happening outside the cinema.

Movie Rating:


(Alex Garland's brutally unsettling dystopian thriller puts you right smack in the middle of the war action, and leaves you pondering about some really bleak issues)

Review by John Li

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