regular-article-logo Monday, 27 May 2024

Civil War: A heart-pounding thriller that spotlights the role of journalists in a democracy

Kirsten Dunst plays a wartime photojournalist in Civil War, co-starring Wagner Moura, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Cailee Spaeny

Agnivo Niyogi Calcutta Published 22.04.24, 02:41 PM
Kirsten Dunst as Lee Smith in the Alex Garland-directed film Civil War.

Kirsten Dunst as Lee Smith in the Alex Garland-directed film Civil War. IMDb

Alex Garland’s fourth film Civil War is not only a gripping thriller, it is also a timely reminder of the vital role that journalists play in safeguarding democracy and preserving individual freedoms. When the foundations of democracy weaken at the hands of autocratic rulers, chaos and violence rush in to fill the void — Civil War drives this message home with an unsettling intensity.

Blending heart-pounding action and thought-provoking commentary, Civil War takes off in a not-so-distant dystopian future. What was once the United States teeters on the edge of collapse, led by an arrogant president hiding inside the White House and facing off armed factions whose motives are often unclear.


Amidst the adrenaline-fuelled action, a group of journalists, led by celebrated wartime photojournalist Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst), travels from New York to Washington with the aim of securing an interview with the president. Along the way, they cross conflict zones and refugee camps, offering a stark portrayal of the toll that war takes on humanity.

The dynamic between the journalists, particularly the seasoned Lee and the eager newcomer Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), forms the backbone of the story as they navigate their differing perspectives and experiences against the backdrop of war. As the conflict escalates, their roles and perceptions evolve, culminating in a dramatic climax that underscores the resilience of the human spirit.

Director Garland raises questions on the role of a journalist in times of crisis. Are they mere observers, chronicling the events around them? Or, are they as opportunistic as the war mongers, capitalising on suffering and sensationalism? This is a thought that Civil War plants in your mind for you to ponder long after you have left the theatre.

The film also refuses to take sides in the depiction of conflict. The lines between right and wrong are blurry, mirroring the complexity of the conflict itself. Rather than focusing solely on what initiated the turmoil and why, Garland delves into a nuanced exploration of the broader impact of war, capturing its harrowing aftermath.

Jarring sounds and striking visuals recreate the disorienting atmosphere of a war-ravaged place, from sparks of fire lighting up the night sky to an entire highway blocked by a never-ending fleet of destroyed cars. Towards the climax, the sound of gunfire is replaced with the clicking of cameras.

The ensemble cast delivers powerhouse performances, with Kirsten Dunst in full throttle in the central role of Lee Smith. Wagner Moura and Stephen McKinley Henderson impress as Lee’s colleagues, while Cailee Spaeny holds her own beside the seasoned actors. A special mention for Jesse Plemons (Kirsten Dunst’s husband in real life) for his brief but chilling cameo as a mercenary who lets his gun do the talking.

Follow us on: