CIVIL WAR is Pure Americasploitation

Civil War the latest by Alex Garland is a dystopian action thriller that takes place in a “not too distant future” and chronicles the final days of the second American Civil War. This has the Western Front (Texas? and California), taking on the remainder of the United States, which is led by a president, just called “the president”, played here by Nick Offerman who has cocooned himself in a concrete encased White House. Like a lot of things in this film, his politics and what started this war is all pretty vague. The narrative follows a seasoned war photojournalist (Kirsten Dunst) and her writing partner as they make their way across our war torn nation, with an AR-15 around every corner, on their way to Washington, DC in an attempt to interview the president and photograph him before the capital falls and he is dispatched.

This urban hellscape as someone who lived right outside of Philadelphia during the riots a few years back really hit a little too close to home, along with some of the other imagery Garland chose to lift and present here in IMAX. For some people, these things in America at the time were very real things, along with the military presence in some major cities thanks to the national guard. While we have these very real scenarios, but with the how and the why carefully drained out of every situation, it robs them of their emotional weight. Garland is very careful not to play the events presented as a north or south thing, a race thing or even a conservative or liberal thing, which honestly makes no sense and will leave most with more questions than answers. The tension of these very real events is something Garland works hard to recapture and channel in the style of an action film and recreate on screen, and it is complemented with a sound mix that gives Dunkirk a run for its money.

That being said I don’t want to take anything from Dunst, who gives a career best performance playing the no-nonsense photojournalist, struggling with PTSD and as a fan makes this film worth the watch. Dunst commands every moment she’s on screen as she attempts to navigate this world as she is forced to take a younger inexperienced female photographer under her wing. While most seem to lock into the ant-war, ‘water is wet’ message since our protagonists are all press, they exist in this other area where they are able to skirt having any motivation linked to the overarching struggle around them. It may be enough for some that we just want to to see them make it out of this exercise alive, but short for a few conversations about where they’re from, the film doesn’t even dig too deep into our characters, which could reveal some other deeper motivation, other than them being a bunch of perverse voyeuristic adrenaline junkies. 

This thread of the media’s role in these events, which is cemented by the film’s closing credits, paints even our protagonists with a rather sinister brush and it’s the only clear stand the film makes. We witness more than a few scenes where we watch 2 to 3 press standing over a dead body in an almost pornographic manner, fighting over the scraps of the carnage trying their best to get the goriest money shot. In fact this film’s media message is so poignant, it punishes Dunst’s character who shortly before the final act makes a gesture that shows that she possibly thinks she may have gone too far. It’s a clear moment  of reflection, that along with that third act looks to offer up some form of redemption for her character, who begins to crumble under the weight of it all. 

Civil War is a film that feels a lot like that guy at the office that likes to complain about politics, but doesn’t vote. The film brought to mind Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s GoodBye Uncle Tom, a film made by Italians about American slavery pre-Civil War. Tom is pure lurid exploitation, that never misses an opportunity to exploit its subjects for another loaded shock. I felt like Civil War is very much cut from the same cloth, a foreign filmmaker exploiting the violence, chaos and turmoil currently at the heart of America, who’s not concerned with really digging into how or why we as a country can pull itself out of this, or even if we should. The film instead leaves the viewer shell shocked and with more questions than answers, at least here in the US. Most international audiences will probably relish in its anti-American message that paints our country without hope and unworthy of salvation, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.  

2 thoughts on “CIVIL WAR is Pure Americasploitation

  1. Great review, clear and concise points about the script and the directors intentions. Seems the rest of the movie critic World has it cites on elevating the story.

  2. Seems you are upset that the movie didnt outwardly align with your view of the world.

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