Movie review: ‘Civil War’

This review contains spoilers.

A promotional poster for "Civil War." Image courtesy of A24.

A24’s newly released “Civil War” depicts a near-future United States in the midst of a second civil war. The movie opens with war photographer Lee Smith — played by Kirsten Dunst — sitting in a hotel room watching a statement given by the president of the United States. The president assures citizens that the war will soon be over and the rebel states will be welcomed back into the Union once their forces have been neutralized.

As Lee watches, a sudden explosion appears in the distance outside her window. The screen then fades to black. Immediately, the music dramatically builds and the audience is treated to a beautiful, sweeping view of the New York City skyline with columns of smoke rising in the foreground.

In the following scenes, Lee documents a riot over food rations that breaks out amongst starving war refugees who begin attacking NYPD officers. In the chaos, aspiring photojournalist Jessie — played by Cailee Spaeny — is injured, and Dunst’s character rushes to give her a neon yellow “press” vest to help the young photographer display her neutrality. Events take a tragic turn in the following moments as a graphic suicide bombing takes place — killing scores of people in the crowd. Lee immediately begins documenting the aftermath as a shell-shocked Jessie looks on.

One thing leads to another, and the audience is taken for a ride through the war-torn East Coast. Lee, Jessie, Joel — played by Wagner Moura — and Sammy – played by Stephen McKinley Henderson — make their way to Washington D.C. to interview and photograph the president before July 4, the date that the Western Forces of Texas and California are predicted to advance the front line to the White House.

At this point, the premise of “Civil War” comes into focus. How would a civil war in modern America be documented? How would American war journalists, who are used to covering conflicts in far-flung corners of the globe, respond to an armed conflict at home?

The movie avoids discussing contemporary American politics and instead depicts a conflict in which a three-term president — who is evidently unpopular — causes a rift amongst states. The political leanings of each side of the conflict are left completely to the imagination. By avoiding current politics, “Civil War” can reach all people without leaving a potentially sour political taste in their mouths — specifically regarding the Republican vs. Democratic divide.

The movie masterfully drives the point home that the American people are better together than apart, with many scenes depicting the horrors of war and the demented state of mind that war-torn populations often find themselves in. Nobody will leave the theater after viewing “Civil War” with a remotely good feeling toward the partisan political divides that are currently tearing real-world America apart.

“Civil War” culminates with an eerie action sequence that is nothing short of a full-blown spectacle. The Western Forces descend upon Washington D.C. with the main characters in tow using armored vehicles, alleyways and rubble to protect themselves while documenting the Battle of D.C. Whether or not the main characters make it to the White House in time to interview the president will not be revealed in this review.

“Civil War” is worth watching for a wide variety of people. Those who are concerned by the current political climate may connect with the movie’s message. Viewers who are unsure about their feelings toward the movie’s message might leave with a better understanding of the dangers of war. People who are simply seeking out an action flick will likely enjoy the movie as well because of its multiple war scenes — especially the lengthy Battle of D.C.