Civil War movie review – Kirsten Dunst leads gripping and timely action thriller | Films | Entertainment

It’s been over 160 years since the American Civil War, but talk of a potential second conflict features all too frequently in US media, as the gulf between a divided nation continues to grow.

Writer-director Alex Garland’s latest blockbuster imagines a world of the near future where the Western Forces, a group of seceded US states led by Texas and California, battle Nick Offerman’s dictatorial president in his third term of office.

Rather than giving details of what exactly sparked the Second American Civil War, this action thriller focuses on the themes and characters explored through Garland’s excellent writing.

Civil War follows a group of war photojournalists who embark on the long drive from New York to Washington DC to interview their Commander-in-Chief in his first (and probably last) one for 14 months. 

Spider-Man star Kirsten Dunst’s character Lee leads the hacks, alongside aspiring photographer Cailee Spaeny (Priscilla), as they traverse the wartorn dystopia through intense post-apocalyptic survival scenes very much reminiscent of the zombie genre – something the writer-director is no stranger to after his masterful horror 28 Days Later.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Rob Hardy, Civil War switches from quieter character-driven scenes to gripping edge-of-your-seat action.

Dunst’s experienced photojournalist mentors Spaeny’s trainee, wrestling with the ethics of obtaining a good story, the desensitised nature of their work and the nail-biting risks they take.

Much of the latter involves following soldiers into battle as they snap shots from live combat to the horrors of tortured prisoners and blindfolded executions.

There’s even an ambiguity as to which side the troops they encounter are on, with a couple of men in one scene targeting a sniper simply because he’s trying to kill them. After all, they’re all Americans, but what kind of American?

This is a question asked at gunpoint in one scene by Dunst’s real-life husband Jesse Plemons, once again giving a subtle yet terrifying performance as a polite monster.

Civil War (which hits UK cinemas on April 12, 2024) is a timely and thought-provoking film from indie production company A24, with their biggest budget to date at $50 million.

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