Movie Reviews
Civil War (2024).

Civil War Review: Alex Garland’s Heartwrenching War Masterpiece

When you go to the theatre to see a brand new Alex Garland movie, you know that it’s not going to be a conventional movie by any means. Even his most accessible movie in my opinion – Ex Machina – is still an absolutely enthralling and bizarre dive into science fiction. The same can also be said about his follow-up film Annihilation. And although I know that a lot of people out there loathe Men with a passion, I personally think it’s an excellent horror film that never fails to get under my skin, even if it’s maybe not as good as it was the first time I saw it.

Although I was familiarized with Garland’s filmography before seeing his latest film Civil War, nothing could’ve truly prepared me for the emotionally taxing and genuinely depressing journey the movie was going to take me on. It’s the kind of movie that, as soon as the credits are finished rolling, you feel absolutely disgusted to your core but you also recognize that the film that you just watched is a total work-of-art. Truth be told, Civil War will be a difficult movie to rewatch because of its imagery and subject matter. But it’s also one of the best movies of the year, and one of the best war movies ever made.

It stands out as a profound commentary on the fabric of American society. Additionally, it delves into politics through the lens of a dystopian war drama. Set in a future America where divisions have escalated into a full-blown Second Civil War, the film intricately explores themes of loyalty, ideology, and the price of freedom through the journey of a team of journalists navigating the ravaged landscape. With a cast led by Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sonoya Mizuno, and Nick Offerman, the film delivers a powerfully resonant narrative that captivates from start to finish.

Garland’s screenplay weaves a harrowing tale that, while dystopian, feels uncomfortably possible. It paints a grim picture of a nation torn asunder by its own contradictions. Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of Lee Smith, a photojournalist caught between her duty to report the truth, is particularly compelling. Her character’s resilience and determination, juxtaposed with her vulnerabilities, make for a nuanced performance that anchors the film. Wagner Moura’s Joel serves as a fitting counterpart, blending cynicism with an unexpected depth of emotion.

The young Cailee Spaeny, as the aspirational Jessie, represents the heart of the film. Through her eyes, we witness the transformation from naivety to the stark realization of war’s brutalities. One can only hope that Spaeny continues to receive incredible roles. Honestly, I’d go as far as to say that she deserves an Oscar for this performance.

Stephen McKinley Henderson’s portrayal of the wise yet fatalistic Sammy offers a masterclass in supporting roles. He leaves an indelible mark despite limited screen time. Meanwhile, Nick Offerman’s casting as the President—serving an unprecedented third term—was an inspired choice. Offerman channels an unsettling blend of charisma and menace, making the dictator all the more believable and chilling.

Garland’s direction is meticulous, crafting scenes of urban warfare and quieter moments of introspection with equal care. His choice to showcase the stark contrast between the chaos of the battlefield and the eerie normalcy found in pockets of the war-torn nation underscores the absurdity and tragedy of civil conflict. The pacing of the film, coupled with its haunting score and visually arresting cinematography, builds a crescendo. It will leave viewers on the edge of their seats. Particularly noteworthy are the action sequences in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the heart-pounding ending. Both of which showcase Garland’s ability to handle large-scale set pieces without losing focus on the human element.

The film’s commentary on journalism is another layer that adds depth to the narrative. Lee and her team’s ethical dilemmas challenge the audience to consider media’s role in shaping perceptions of war.

The bold narrative choice forces the audience to confront the moral ambiguity of vengeance and justice in times of war. It shows Garland’s exploration of human darkness and revolutionary complexities. The final image of the film is a chilling reminder of the cycle of violence.


Civil War is a masterful addition to the genre of dystopian war films. It offers a riveting, albeit bleak, vision of America’s future that resonates with the current global political climate. With standout performances, particularly from Dunst and Moura, and Garland’s expert direction, the film achieves a rare balance of thrilling entertainment and thoughtful commentary.

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Civil War Review: Alex Garland's Heartwrenching War Masterpiece
  • Acting - 10/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 10/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 9/10
  • Setting/Theme - 10/10
  • Watchability - 10/10
  • Rewatchability - 6/10
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