Character growth in wartime

Film review of Civil War. Picture: ON FILE

By Seth Lukas Hynes

Civil War

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura and Cailee Spaeny



The fourth film from writer-director Alex Garland, Civil War is a riveting, superbly-crafted character drama set against the backdrop of war.

In a near-future America split by civil war, a group of photojournalists make their way to Washington D.C. to witness the end of the conflict.

Kirsten Dunst is phenomenal as Lee, a legendary photojournalist; Lee is stern and professional, numbed by the traumatic events she has witnessed, but compassionate deep down.

As her group, which includes wisecracking colleague Joel (Wagner Moura), press further through war-torn America, the horrors they experience weigh even on these desensitised veterans, while their tagalong Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), who begins as an overwhelmed kid, hardens and grows instincts as a war photographer.

Rounded out by Stephen McKinley Henderson as their wise mentor Sammy, the cast is fleshed-out and compelling, with that one perfect shot as the focal point of their development.

Harsh, visceral and unheroic, the battle sequences feature concussive sound design highlighted with strategic silence for the terror to sink in. These battles are also often punctuated with evocative photo snaps; these shots add a further layer to the tension, showing these bursts of brutality both as a safe black-and-white archive and the stressful unfolding event itself.

Some viewers may be disappointed with the minimal world-building.

Beyond Nick Offerman as a dictatorial President, we gain little insight on why the US fractured into warring groups (and many have commented on the absurdity of Texas and California being on the same side).

Some may find this shallow, but Civil War is more concerned with everyday people surviving and documenting the chaos than its ideological source (though one scene is a little too blatant with this apolitical ethos).

A stark, supremely suspenseful character drama driven by war, Civil War is playing in most Victorian cinemas.