Friday, April 12, 2024

The Intense Impact of A24’s CIVIL WAR Comes From Its All-Too-Real Feel

Opening today at a multiplex near us all:

CIVIL WAR (Dir. Alex Garland, 2024)

Alex Garland’s fourth film as director (and eighth as screenwriter), after an impressive run that includes EX MACHINA, ANNIHILATION, and MEN; is the fillmmaker’s most intense, and impactful work yet in its depiction of a lawless, ravaged country that has been torn apart by the destructive divisions that we’re all very aware, and frightened of right now. 


Yes, it’s a familiar dystopian future scenario, but without sci-fi tinges as it appears to happen in the very near future under the reign of a nameless fascist three-term president played by Nick Offerman (who will always be Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation to me). 


The film follows Kirsten Dunst as a tough as nails war photographer (it’s mentioned that her coverage of the Antifa Massacre broke her career), Wagner Moura as her journalist friend, Stephen McKinley Henderson as an elder New York Times reporter, and Cailee Spaeny as a young aspiring photojournalist, as they travel from the Big Apple to Washington DC to get an interview with the president because as Moura says, “it’s the last story out there.”


Driving in a white SUV through threatening territory, the ragtag crew encounter violence in the form of open country, and urban shoot-outs; and a militia group headed by a grim, camouflaged Jesse Plemmons (Dunst’s real-life husband) who interrogates our protagonists standing over a mass grave of bloody bodies in the movie’s scariest, edgiest scene.


The raw look of the film adds to its authenticity as cinematographer Rob Hardy, who had worked on Garland’s previous films, aims to illustrate what the photographer characters capture on their cameras with gritty still shots effectively being presented throughout. CIVIL WAR itself was shot on a new camera, the digital handheld DJI Ronin 4D, which self stabilizes, decreasing vertical shake.


While I was left with some questions about the crumbling nation Garland presents, CIVIL WAR is a compellingly executed narrative about a road trip from hell that culminates in a fiery, bombastic White House climax that will stick in your head for days. Its grounded by the sharp performances of Dunst, in a distinctively different role than she’s ever played before, and Spaeny, whose investment here made me forget pretty quickly that her breakthrough roles was portraying Elvis Presley’s all-too-young wife in Sofia Coppola’s PRISCILLA last year.


With his latest offering for what’s arguably American’s hippest film production company, A24, Garland again gives us a thoughtful, fearless, and abrasive take on compromised, and cornered human nature. It’s also a tribute to journalism, and the crucial place the press have in our democracy. Dunst and her fellow scrappy newshounds never spout out any opinions about anything that went down or lament where they are currently in all the chaos; they just do their jobs without bias, only wanting the best in-the-moment documentation. 

However, my cynicism at times made me think these people wouldnt get as far as they did in these treacherous badlands with a vehicle with the large letters denoting PRESS” on its front doors.

CIVIL WAR can be a disturbing, and often jarring, experience, but what makes it really scary is how real it feels as it’s a harsh warning about what really could be coming in our future considering, well, everything.

More later...

No comments: