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Civil War: An unafraid imagining of America at its most brutal

Civil War takes an ambitious leap into the crowded genre of dystopian cinema with vigour and stylistic consideration.

Courtesy of IMDb

By Anna Dodd, Second Year, English Literature

Alex Garland’s latest blockbuster sees an ensemble cast of four journalists embark on a road trip through war-torn America, driving right into the frontlines of the friction, with the ultimate goal of an interview with the illegitimate President. The film is just as concerned with the art of photojournalism as it is about conflict, and less so with politics – a choice that has been met with criticism. The lack of explanation as to why the country is at war in the first place does feel frustrating at first, but eventually the confusion slips away as it becomes clear that the film is more concerned about what it is to sacrifice morality in favour of artistic gain.

The film sets a new record for A24 as its most high-budget film yet – and it shows. Civil War certainly isn’t let down by its visuals, with the narrative consistently accompanied by stunning frames that quite literally blow your breath away. Whether it be the tangerine glittering of a forest fire, a wide shot of a desolate cityscape or a pile of bodies spilling over each other in a mass grave, cinematographer Rob Hardy’s eye does great service in building the world of a familiar America paralysed by tragedy. The inclusion of Lee and Jessie’s photographs, which are projected mid-scene accompanied by camera clicks was a nice touch. Not only does this show the audience the ‘killer shots’ these journalists risk so much to capture, but stylistically they look superb.

Courtesy of IMDb

These scenes are accompanied by a clearly considered soundtrack. Despite needle drops that are at first questionable, a sequence of intense violence underlaid with the song ‘Say No Go’ from De La Soul shouldn’t work but somehow does. Ultimately the musicscape captures the heart of America. From synth-pop to country, the soundtrack is unconventional and jarring, an effect which, considering the weight of themes the film deals with, needs to be invasive.

In a world of 24/7 news cycles and adjoining desensitisation to images of violence, it's certainly hard for a war film to show us anything new with profound effect. The gore in this film is brutal but used sparingly and with deliberate intent. The balance Garland manages to find with this invokes just the right amount of excruciation, without being off-putting. The four central protagonists encounter such violence with believability, not heroism as Kirsten Dunst’s character Lee Miller asserts to her naive counterpart Jessie (Cailee Spaney) - “We don’t ask. We record so other people ask.” As Lee, Dunst gives the most striking performance of the film, capturing her numbness towards horror and deadened feeling with subtlety.

Courtesy of IMDb

If you’re looking for a politically inclined statement that aims to make some sort of stance on the culture war of the United States, then this is not the movie for you. Instead, Civil War holds back from spoon-feeding answers, yet it still presents an all too realistic possibility that is hypnotising to watch unfurl.

What did you think of Civil War?