REVIEW: Civil War proves both brutal and gripping

Civil War (contributed pic)Civil War (contributed pic)
Civil War (contributed pic)
Civil War (15), (109 mins), Cineworld Cinemas

Civil War is a bizarre and brutal film in which America imagines its own bloody near-future disintegration.

It’s gripping too, edge-of-the-seatily so as the showdown looms – so much so that you almost forget that you haven’t got a clue what’s going on. You could easily imagine that Civil War was going to be some kind of warning about what another Trump presidency could hold in store. But absolutely not. Far from it. This is a film steadfastly determined to give us none of the background, save to say that for reasons we will never know California and Texas – jointly known as the Western Forces – have seceded, declared their own government and are now marching on the White House with the president as their target.

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The film opens with the president bumblingly preparing a victory speech which clearly isn’t remotely founded in what’s actually happening. We don’t then see him until the end. In between times it’s the tale of a bunch of journalists who are rather insanely trying to drive from New York City to Washington DC in the rather unlikely hope of getting to interview him.

Among the foursome is Lee, a war photographer played by Kirsten Dunst and clearly modelled, the film is quick to tell us, on Lee Miller. Determined to get the interview is Reuters reporter Joel (Wagner Moura); and Lee is outraged when Joel allows fresh-faced wannabee Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) to tag along with them. Ageing veteran Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) completes the mismatched gang who run into trouble, escape, run into trouble, escape ad nauseum on their journey.

At times the film is basically mindless violence with a bit of human interest thrown in. But then again, presumably that’s precisely what civil war is. There are plenty of grim moments where you want to look away but can’t, and there’s a moment of particularly ghastly tension just near, ironically, an abandoned Winter Wonderland. Otherwise it’s a cascade of tumbling bodies as slowly and far from surely they get ever closer to DC.

It's an excellent gritty performance from Kirsten Dunst, but possibly more striking still is Spaeny as Jessie for whom the whole road trip is an accelerated training course beyond her wildest dreams and nightmares. She idolises Lee and learns beside her, very much on the job. Between them they take thousands of photos, each one momentarily stopping the action. You do start to wonder just what on earth they are going to do with all of them. But possibly not as much as you wonder why this is a film so loathe to explain why it is all happening.

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But it is certainly riveting stuff, director Alex Garland heaping up the tension as the body count mounts and the destruction piles up all around them. It’s paced horribly effectively with the sense of menace chillingly delivered. Maybe best of all, it’s a film which will leave you pondering just what it all adds up to. After a few ropey films of late, this is a return to form, the kind of film which warrants the big screen.

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