Movie Review – Civil War (2024)


It’s slyly coloured with bold political overtones in an election year. But Alex Garland’s Civil War is much more a clinical thesis on what journalism has perhaps always been.

Civil War (2024) Review: 6 thumbs-up and 1 thumbs-down
Snappy Movie Review | Civil War (2024)

Civil War (2024) Synopsis

The United States is torn apart by a brutal, multiparty civil war. Believing that D.C. will soon be overrun by the secessionist forces, veteran journalists Lee Smith and Joel decides to travel to the capital to interview the American president before the federal government falls. They are joined on their perilous journey by Sammy, an elderly editor of the New York Times, and Cailee, an aspiring young photojournalist who idolises Lee.

Snappy Review

I bet Civil War is the current must-watch movie of the season for my varsity juniors, i.e., communication students

I bet it would be the subject of one or more tutorial discussions too. Following which, after a year or so, all the faculty clubs would be bending over backward to screen it for campus movie nights.

Yes, Alex Garland’s dystopian dissertation for 2024 would be, because it is such a sorrowful analysis of what people of my discipline study. While heavily coloured by American socio-political tones and released during a bitter election year, Civil War is, in truth, a clinical, almost brutal examination of what journalism is, or at least, what it was originally meant to be.

The movie celebrates the steeliness and the determination of the Fourth Estate, while acknowledging the dehumanising impact of the profession on its workers. Were I to discuss it in one of those tutorials, I would even passionately argue that Civil War is not a political movie but a journalism one through and through. The former, because Garland never once explicitly identified the full reason for the schism in the show. The story is always grounded by the supposedly dispassionate viewpoints of Lee Smith and her ragtag team.

For some viewers, this lack of a partisan anchor will be a huge turn-off. I say “will” instead of “might” because I’ve already read more than one (American) review condemning this aspect. Amazingly, some publications are even calling the movie controversial because of this; talk about clickbait.

If you ask me, I think the appearance of such criticisms exemplifies a dark message that Garland has carefully woven into his hyperviolent, heart-wrenching road trip. There is always a neutral position. An observer position too. These positions are not necessarily wrong, immoral, or easier. There are many ways to read that horrific confrontation helmed by Jesse Plemons but one message has to be that the neutral are often victimised by all, even if they try hard to be “friends” to all.

Further to that scene … let’s just say I never want to watch it again. It is so unforgivingly complete in its encapsulation of human monstrosity. I think Kirsten Dunst was telling the truth when she said her husband did the production a favour by agreeing to play the godawful role.

Moving on to the cast, I feel all did phenomenal jobs in depicting the different types of journalists out there as well as the interactions between them. (And yes, there are still older ones who are very ready to mentor; I just witnessed this last month) I am glad that there is an overall lack of theatrics, too, and that the movie opted for stills and profiles to communicate brutality and irony. By the way, Civil War is quite the textbook on composition and moment.


To be clear, I’m also not so enamored with the show that I feel it is flawless. I think one major bit of the ending is unnecessary. A heavier peppering of civilian viewpoints about the war could have enriched the tale.

But overall, this is one movie that’s already on my favourite list. It is also one that I would reflect on very often, whenever I read a news report. If you have any interest in news reporting, I strongly encourage you to watch it.

Watch the trailer here.

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