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  • Robert Farago

S w woCivil War – Movie Review


What photojournalist uses film? Cinematically speaking, digital doesn’t give you the dramatic old school shutter click of a “real” camera. But c’mon. By the same token, what photojournalist doesn’t upload their war photos a femtosecond or two after taking them?

Civil War is preposterous on a lot of levels. The movie’s photojournalist protagonists are embedded in military actions. I mean RIGHT NEXT TO THEM. More-or-less (mostly more) in the direct line of fire.

That is NOT going to happen. Nor are hardened journalists going to take a total rookie danger close into an active war zone. Or a morbidly obese New York Times journalist who can barely walk with a cane.

The movie plays into the threat of a present-day post-election civil war mooted by members of the left. What if Trump wins and Democrats refuse to certify the election? What if Biden wins and “dictator-in-waiting” Donald Trump rallies his followers to take control? Just like January sixth!

I don’t think either eventuality will come to pass, but I fully expected Civil War to make that threat seem a real and present danger.

To at least explain why fictional America has devolved into a bloody battle. A line or two of plot exposition would have been super-easy. Barely an inconvenience!

Nope. The filmmakers did nothing to put us in the loop. And when I say nothing, I mean zilch. The closest we get to a civil war raison d’etre: when our hapless heroes happen upon a mass grave.

A soldier played by Jesse Plemons– the best actor in the movie’s best scene – holds the jobbing journos captive, demanding to know if they’re American. As in from which part of America they hail. He executes the journalists who give the wrong answer.

Meanwhile… why were all those civilians murdered? What’s motivating the Western Forces and the Southern Alliance (Texas!) to kill the President and do… what?

All we’re told: the doomed President of the United State [sic] is serving his third term. The mainstream press reviewers presume Civil War’s Prez is a dictator. Like Trump! But no one ever says “dictator” and the film presents no evidence of a dictatorship.

Clearly, the filmmakers didn’t want to alienate, um, anyone. Especially filmgoers on the right side of the political spectrum.

That said, Kirsten Dunst’s lead performance as grizzled photojournalist Lee provides an excellent example of emotional alienation. Her pained, cheerless, stoic expression never wavers, giving us zero insight into her character. Or a reason to care.

Lee’s relationship with Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) is supposed to form the heart of the movie. Jessie is a younger Lee, experiencing her first trial by fire. “I never felt so scared, but I never felt so alive!” she admits excitedly.

Unfortunately, Jessie’s scenes with Lee are as dead as a doornail. Leaving us with the same reason to watch Civil War as her character has for being in the thick of things: thrills!

The movie’s “bang bang” (journalists’ name for military action) is suitably violent and scary if, again, laughable from a military point of view.

The Western Forces invade DC with attack helicopters and tanks to kill the President and the White House is totally intact and loosely defended? Gedowdaheah!

Hanging out with doomed fat guy NYT writer, Lee makes the movie’s only point: “Every time I survive the war zone, I thought I was sending a warning home. Don’t do this.”

Do WHAT? Have a civil war? If you say so.

Aside from the aforementioned mass grave – presented without rhyme or reason – there are no compelling scenes of brother vs. brother civil war-style human suffering.

Actually, there’s one. With a single bad guy straight out of Deliverance. Not shown in the trailer, don’tcha know.

I simply can’t get past the movie’s central flaw: it’s singular spectacular failure to explain how we got there. Where “there” is.

We know what caused this movie to exist: the studio’s attempt to exploit current political tensions for a box office bonanza. Mission accomplished, apparently.

When the [baseless] “controversy” about Civil War dies down, the movie’s popularity will die with it. Along with any hope that the film would be anything more than a cursory cautionary tale, reminding us, less effectively than dozens of other movies, that war is bad.

Civil War could have been so much more than a dystopian thrill ride. Or at least a better dystopian thrill ride. Should have been? That too.

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