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Civil War film review: Alex Garland offers a “dystopian” future

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Kirsten Dunst's new film Civil War is a deeply compelling dystopian vision of the future

Kirsten Dunst Courtesy of A24

“Civil War” receives 3 out of 4 stars from Us Weekly film critic Mara Reinstein.

Maybe it's best to start with an overview of it Civil War is not.

Despite the title, the ominous Statue of Liberty torch poster and trailer are included Kirsten Dunst seriously talks about the need to go to Washington, DC, this is not a political film. There is no obvious connection with the upcoming election. Writer-director Alex Garland (Men, Ex Machina) never bothers to explain what the POTUS (Nick Offerman) did just that to spur a divided nation where Texas and California are united.

Red states, blue states. Neither classification matters compared to the frightening situation.

Civil War It's also not a film that invites you to watch it again. Forget any twisted or openly interpreted ambiguities about all the intense violence. Garland, a London native, presents his dark cautionary tale loud and clear with every piercing shot. But that doesn't mean this deeply compelling dystopian vision of the future is easy to shake off.

So what are we dealing with here? An examination of combat journalists who sink into a moral gray area in the name of their job. Dunst's Lee Miller is an experienced and celebrated war photographer who shows little emotion as bullets spray her way in New York. She simply wants to tell a story with her camera. Now she and her work partner, a writer named Joel (Wagner Moura), want to go to the White House to interview the reclusive and embattled third-term president. As Joel reasons in a way too dubious explanation: “Interviewing him is the only story left.”

Kirsten Dunst's new film Civil War is a deeply compelling dystopian vision of the future

(L-R) Cailee Spaeny, Kirsten Dunst Courtesy of A24

To secure the sit-in, we must travel more than 800 miles in a battered white press van through active war zones and enemy territories guarded by merciless and heavily armed forces. On a personal level, Lee is also conflicted about the fact that a 23-year-old ambitious but green photographer (Priscilla star Cailee Spaeny) sneaked into the car. Her Jessie character is relegated to the back seat along with a grizzled man New York Times reporter (Stephen Henderson).

The group travels through Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, where emotionally drained locals search for food, water and resources. The tension is almost unbearably high at every stop. Every encounter with a stranger carries a hint of doom: filling up the tank at an abandoned gas station requires delicate dealings with the cautious owners; A sunny girl in her twenties working behind the counter of an empty fashion boutique doesn't seem trustworthy.

The optimism of spring is often contrasted with the stench of death. In a harrowing scene that underscores the madness, a sadistic soldier (an uncredited one) Jesse Plemons(i.e. Dunst's husband), standing in the countryside, murders bystanders with the disarming accident of swatting away a fly. It is such a quiet, frightening experience that the chaotic violence at the White House that follows seems numbing and disappointing by comparison.

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Civil War can be frustrating at times. War aside, Garland has no clear perspective on journalists getting a firsthand look at the horrors around them. Dunst portrays Lee as a jaded and stone-faced professional, while Jessie is the wide-eyed idealist vomiting after a near-death trauma. They're both heroes in their own way, but neither of them captures the heart or empathy when it counts.

The logic of their assignment – ​​rather, their mission – also feels askew. Who and where is the audience of these risk-taking journalists? Working cell phone service has long been unavailable. Nobody uses a phone or has regular access to the Internet. The closest the film comes to a laugh is when Moura wryly talks about “what’s left of it.” The New York Times.” Dunst and Spaeny take lots of photos during the trip, complete with a distracting camera click-click sound effect. But do their images really make a difference in this cynical reality?

Of course there are no right answers. Due to the film's narrow narrative scope and its single-character focus, audiences are left to digest the visual consequences of this civil war: empty highways, residential lawlessness, an abandoned mall, cities literally under attack, and one final, cunning image, that burns the soul.

None of the above is consumable entertainment – ​​but in this moment, it's all disturbingly effective.

Civil Warwhich premiered at the SXSW Festival, hits theaters on Friday, April 12th.