Civil War Review: Kirsten Dunst Stars in Alex Garland’s Ambitious but Flawed Political Thriller

**Civil War**, the latest film from Alex Garland, presents a gripping premise: What if America descended into a second civil war? Given the current political climate, it’s a timely and resonant question. However, while Garland’s execution captures the brutality of such a conflict, it falls short in delivering a politically engaging narrative.
 Plot Overview
Set in a near-future America already torn apart by civil war, the film follows celebrated war photographer Lee (Kirsten Dunst) as she documents the ongoing violence. The country is split, with an unnamed president (Nick Offerman) battling secessionist Western Forces, comprising an alliance between Texas and California, and a rogue Florida. Lee, inspired by legendary war photographer Lee Miller, returns from overseas to capture the devastation at home.
Joined by her colleague Joel (Wagner Moura), veteran journalist Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), and aspiring photojournalist Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), Lee sets off on a perilous journey to the front lines. Their goal is to document the conflict and, if possible, secure an interview with the reclusive president.
 War and Journalism
As a war movie, **Civil War** is visually and emotionally impactful. Garland’s depiction of battle scenes is both vivid and unsettling, enhanced by jarring, realistic touches such as a crashed helicopter in a JC Penney parking lot and refugee camps in football stadiums. The film’s exploration of journalism is also compelling, showcasing the motivations and risks faced by war photographers. Jessie’s transformation from a horrified novice to a desensitized adrenaline junkie is particularly well portrayed.
 Political Ambiguity
However, **Civil War** falters as a political movie. Garland intentionally avoids delving into the specifics of the conflict’s origins, leaving crucial questions unanswered. This ambiguity feels more like a cop-out than a deliberate narrative choice, resulting in a film that skirts around its political premise rather than engaging with it deeply. Key events, such as the “Antifa Massacre,” are mentioned without sufficient context, and the political motivations of characters like Offerman’s POTUS remain frustratingly unclear.
The film’s saving grace lies in its performances. Kirsten Dunst delivers a standout performance as Lee, imbuing her character with a blend of world-weary resolve and underlying humanity. Her interactions with Jessie, played by the talented Cailee Spaeny, are particularly affecting, highlighting a complex mentor-mentee relationship.
Stephen McKinley Henderson provides a warm, stabilizing presence as Sammy, while Wagner Moura adds depth as Joel. Together, the ensemble cast helps to ground the film, even when the narrative feels unfocused.
**Civil War** is a mixed bag. Garland’s vision of a war-torn America is visually striking and filled with powerful performances, but the film’s lack of political depth undermines its provocative premise. While it succeeds in capturing the chaos and horror of conflict, it ultimately feels like an opportunity missed to explore the deeper issues at the heart of its story.o

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