April 11, 2024

REEL | Alex Garland Captures A 'Civil War' x SXSW 2024

"I've never been scared like that before, and I've never felt more alive."
Cailee Spaeny Alex Garland | Civil War A24
SXSW Film & TV Festival
British novelist turned filmmaker Alex Garland's dystopian road trip action drama Civil War foretells the United States' upsetting possible near-future where a fascist dictator president who refuses to leave office in armed conflict against united "Western Front" state rebellion forces from California and Texas. It's a horrific love letter to combat photojournalism, spotlighting the costly dehumanization of war by emphasizing the gut-churning power of images.

Both Kirsten Dunst and Cailee Spaeny star as embedded photojournalists at opposite ends of their careers, with the former being a seasoned, weary veteran who has a no-nonsense demeanour against the reckless rookie photographer desperate for the thrill of the moment. They give sensational, nuanced performances that require their characters to make hard emotional turns at a moment's notice.

Surrounding them are Wagner Moura and Stephen McKinley Henderson, rounding out the foursome on a trek from New York City to Washington, D.C., to cover the dying days of the President's (Nick Offerman) tyrannical rule. The actual cause and events of the fictional events these war correspondents are documenting feel rather immaterial as the often restrained film mirrors the characters' cold reaction to what's going on.

Kirsten Dunst Cailee Spaeny Alex Garland | Civil War A24
A24 / Elevation Pictures
Garland wisely makes Civil War fairly apolitical despite obvious allusions to the current American political and cultural discourse. His characters constantly question what they and others are doing. It's likely his status as a non-American British filmmaker helps him frame this fictional political conflict through an unsentimental lens of combat zone journalism unfolding on U.S. soil. It's a harrowing journey executed with rich cinematic flourishes that never detract from the fictional but horrific violence it documents.

Civil War is a phenomenally made, immersive film that's both visually and dramatically arresting as it is unsettling. It cares less about playing politics and more about the human cost and constant trauma of wartime. Structured as a chilling road trip where all the characters are hyper-aware of the eventual outcome, its horrors come from the wide range of reactions to another American Civil War breaking out across the country. It's truly terrifying yet also captivating to watch the disunity unfold.

Civil War premiered at the 2024 South by Southwest Film & TV Festival (Austin, Texas) as part of the Headliners section.

More | YVArcade / CBC / Inverse / Polygon

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