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Movie Review - A24's Civil War

Welcome to the frontline.

Civil War is a 2024 war thriller film directed by Alex Garland, written by Alex Garland, produced by DNA Films and IPR.VC, and distributed by A24 and Entertainment Film Distributors. It stars Kirsten Dunst and Wagner Moura.

"I need a quote." - Joel


In the midst of a brutal American civil war, four journalists travel across the country to get one final interview with the president before the capital is destroyed.

The Sweet

Civil War was one of my most anticipated movies of the year for a few reasons. First, Alex Garland is an awesome director. I think Ex Machina is one of the coolest sci-fi films of the 21st century, and the movies he makes are always interesting. Second, the trailer completely sold me on the film. And third, with this being released in an election year and in a time where America is very divided, I was incredibly interested to see what this film had to say. But did the movie live up to expectations?

Yes, it did. Civil War is a very good film.

The best thing about this movie is the simplistic nature of it. The timing of this film's release was definitely not a coincidence. We are in an election year in which two incredibly controversial figures are running for president. America is extremely divided right now. Everything on social media and on the news just seems to be people arguing with each other. So, when you tackle an idea like this at this specific time, it can get very complicated, but Civil War decides to keep the plot simple. For being a film with a clear message, it does not take a political stance, which I thought was a very good choice. It simply presents a snapshot of what the most extreme version of a divided America would look like, and it does so in horrifying fashion.

And this movie borders on horror. It's obviously not an outright horror film, but it is incredibly scary, because it feels so real. There is not a score in this film. There is music, but every piece of music is a pre-existing song that overrides a specific scene. Many of the most intense sequences in this film do not have any music whatsoever, because that's what would happen in real life. The gunshots and explosions don't feel like fun, popcorn entertainment. They feel discomforting and close. The violence is shocking and visceral. It feels very immersive, and because of that, very disturbing.

I also really loved the subtle commentary that the film gives. The social commentary about the current divided state of America is not at the forefront. It does not dominate most of the screentime or the story. The film just shows what division at its most extreme can come to. It is meant to scare the audience by giving us a glimpse at what this divide could potentially become. The film also chooses to not really give us any details about the civil war itself, so it just seems like everyone is fighting over nothing, which makes this commentary even stronger and even more upsetting.

I also thought all of the central performances here were very strong. I'm not the world's biggest Kirsten Dunst fan, but she gives a hardened, tough performance in this that I really dug. Wagner Moura and Cailee Spaeny are our two major supporting characters, and they are both really solid. Moura is a bit of the comic relief here but also had some serious moments that he handled nicely. Spaeny's character goes through the most change, and she was really able to show that progression well. The biggest performance that I want to shout out, though, is Jesse Plemons. Plemons has one scene in the film. His character literally does not have a name. And his performance in that scene is so freakin' scary that I had to shout him out here.

Overall, Civil War is just a solid look at how horrible things could get in this country. It's incredibly intense from start to finish. The way that it handles the brutal, unflinching reality of this civil war is highly disturbing and highly effective. I think it executed it's premise very well without stepping on anyone's toes politically. I didn't personally love the film, but I do respect it and I do think it is very well made.

The Sour

While I think it was very smart to not address the history and reasons behind the civil war itself, the movie kind of backs itself into a corner by doing that, because then it feels like there isn't really a plot. Yes, we are following these four journalists on their odyssey across war-torn America, but there isn't really a through-line. There isn't a clear three-act structure here. The film is very episodic in the way it plays out, and I feel like that makes it a little more awkward than I would've preferred it to be.

I also think that the end of this film is a little bit anti-climactic. The final battle sequence that takes place in DC is pretty awesome, but as you get into the literal last two or three minutes of the film, there are a few things that happen that left me pretty unsatisfied. There's a major thing that happens that you would expect to get a big reaction from our characters, but they basically do not respond to it, which left me very confused. And the final moment in the film, while definitely wrapping up the main storyline, felt a little bit underwhelming.

I also think this movie takes its sweet time to get going. The first half of the film feels like a bleak road movie that unfolds very slowly. There's a scene where the journalists encounter this Christmas-themed place, and once you get there, the film begins to ramp up, but it takes a bit. It just feels like they spent the first half of the movie building out the characters and the second half delivering on the thrills and action instead of blending those two together throughout the entire thing.

Final Thoughts and Score

Overall, Civil War is a disturbingly real glimpse into the most extreme, violent version of the current divided state America is in. It is effective in its intensity and performances, while still definitely missing the mark on a few things.

I will go Savory here. Age range is 15+.


Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)

"Civil War"

Fun Factor: 8/10

Acting: 8/10

Story: 6.5/10

Characters: 7.5/10

Quality: 8/10

Directed by Alex Garland

Rated R for strong bloody violence, frightening themes and images, language, thematic elements

Released on April 12, 2024

1 hour and 49 minutes

Kirsten Dunst as Lee Smith

Wagner Moura as Joel

Cailee Spaeny as Jessie Cullen

Stephen McKinley Henderson as Sammy

Nick Offerman as The President of the United States

Sonoya Mizuno as Anya

Jefferson White as Dave

Nelson Lee as Tony

Evan Lai as Bohai

Jesse Plemons as The Militant


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