Why you’re wrong about “Civil War”

A24’s first blockbuster has faced unsubstantiated criticism

Acclaimed director Alex Garland’s newest movie, “Civil War,” recently came out to mixed reviews, with commentators critiquing it for certain nuanced issues, but I personally think their issues are unfounded and that they should give the war movie another chance.

The production company behind the movie, A24, has consistently produced quality and wholly original movies from famed directors to recent film school graduates. They have become a powerhouse in the film industry and have proven that movies can be both financially viable and critically pleasing. 

The company behind movies like “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” and “Midsommar” is also known for utilizing cost effective production methods and keeping a relatively low budget amongst their movies. 

This trend stopped in their making of “Civil War.” With a budget of over 50 million, this dystopian film is A24’s most ambitious (and most expensive) movie yet and is the production company’s first real attempt to make a blockbuster. 

Even with the departure from A24’s usual track to success, the movie is extremely well done. With an amazing cast, outstanding performances from stars like Kirsten Dunst and unique stylistic choices the movie is both visually and emotionally pleasing to the audience. “Civil War” is definitely one of the best movies of the year. 

Before we get into the criticism, what does this movie do well? One of my favorite aspects of the movie is its soundtrack. Throughout the movie, Garland sets the film’s long winded shots of a war torn America to a varied array of niche music. One of the first songs of the movie is “Lovefingers” by the Silver Apples, an experimental electronic rock band from the 60’s, an extremely deep cut for a blockbuster movie. 

The movie also uses songs from the rock band “Suicide” and during an especially emotional scene Garland plays Sturgill Simpson’s “Breakers Roar.” “Civil War’s” assorted music choices perfectly accompany the movie and lend to its enjoyability.

“Civil War” is also one of the first movies to use the DJI Ronin 4D camera. This self stabilizing video camera lends to a completely unique look for the film and makes for many beautiful and completely new shots. Additionally the actual war scenes of this movie are really well done; Garland mixes footage of the battle with photos simultaneously while only utilizing the sounds of the war making a super unique experience for the viewers. 

Unfortunately, some critics and internet personalities have chosen to ignore all of the positive aspects of the film and instead have focused on what they think is the movie’s political messaging. The movie plays out a hypothetical situation in which certain states like Texas and California are fighting to take over the country after the president of the US becomes dictatorial, disbanding the FBI and taking a third term. This outline is all the audience gets regarding the details of the actual conflict.

 While this story line is extremely interesting and provides an amazing backbone to an even better storyline as we follow four interesting characters and watch them grow and develop, this conjectural situation does nothing more than provide that backbone.

 Many viewers have come to believe that this movie is somehow a metaphor to current American politics and is attempting to create discourse about certain politicians. With this, they believe the movie is extremely ineffective and they look at it as a failed political message.

 I believe that the movie is in no way a political message, rather an experimental film with an extremely interesting character study on the effects of war with a unique theoretical background, not a one sided ineffectual discussion on current politics. 

These reviewers have basically dismissed all of the accomplishments of “Civil War” and instead opted to focus on its lack of political messaging, something that it is not even attempting to accomplish.

The director, Alex Garland, has come out and said his movie is not meant as a direct reference to current politics. He even purposely teamed Texas and California, states commonly known as “red” and “blue” states in order to not stir up any political messaging or ideas.

He also purposely left the movie’s conflict up for interpretation and left out a lot of details of the made up politics in order to focus on other aspects of the plot.

The main focus of this movie and what it does really well has nothing to do with political messaging. The movie takes the audience on an adventure through a war torn American landscape and the audience is able to see the effects of war and conflict through the eyes of four extremely interesting and well written characters.

 The movie’s main message examines how callous and cold one can become through war and these four characters go through extreme growth throughout the film showcasing different takes on this theme. 

The main character is a war photographer, played by Kirsten Dunst, who starts off the movie shaped by war. She is extremely cold and impartial to the conflict around her and shows little to no emotion. Dunst plays this angle exceptionally well with layers of nuance that makes her a super likable character. 

Throughout the duration of the movie, Dunst takes another rookie photographer, Cailee Spaeney, under her wing, and we are able to see both characters grow throughout the run time. Dunst’s character starts off with a hardened exterior, but as she begins to mentor Spaeney’s character she becomes more open to human connection and begins to show a lot of emotion and empathy.

 On the other hand, Spaeney’s character starts off as young and inexperienced, not well prepared for the war’s conditions and reacts poorly to witnessing death. At the end of the movie she has completely flipped, emotionlessly witnessing death around her and focusing on herself and her goals only.

The main plot of this movie revolves around these two characters, along with a writer played by Wagner Moura and a veteran reporter played by Stephen McKinley Henderson. the two road trips through the front lines of the war in order to be the last people to interview the disgraced president. 

This plot allows the audience to get an intimate portrait of these four characters’ journeys and get a first hand account of their growth and development.  

The growth of these characters is what the movie is trying to put forward, not some half formed modern political commentary. Through the storyline of a modern American civil war, viewers witness a more interesting discussion on war and desensitization, and the movie does this really well. If people who criticized it for tip-toeing around politics forget about politics, then they can enjoy a really well done movie.

Through its beautifully shot action sequences, varied sound track and experimental filming methods, “Civil War” provides a satisfying movie going experience for A24 fans, action movie fans or really any movie goer. If you ignore the reviews that bash the film for a failed political message, then you will be treated to a suspenseful and enjoyable watch.

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