top of page

Film review: Alex Garland's A24 thriller 'Civil War' (2024)

A photographer in a war zone
Kirsten Dunst in 'Civil War'

Alex Garland’s fourth film, and third with indie slash major film studio A24, has already kicked up a fuss in the States before its release, with people either seeing it as a dangerous screed or cowardly in its refusal to commit to a political stance. I wonder how many of the commentators have actually seen the film though, as it is pretty clear when watching it that Garland is not interested in using the war as a polemic on the divide between the left and the right - and he doesn’t need to. Anyone with half a brain can see that the idea of a civil war in current-day America doesn’t seem too far-fetched, and we know the reasons why. Garland doubles down on this by offering few details or background to the war, instead showing us two factions (the California -Texas rebellion and the United States military) who are often unsure who they are fighting and a President (Nick Offerman) who publicly claims victory at the start of the film, when it is quite far from the truth.


Into this confusing miasma of conflict and doubt, ventures a group of journalists: Kirsten Dunst’s world-weary (and life-weary) photographer Lee, Wagner Moura’s danger-addicted Joel, Stephen McKinley Henderson’s ageing journo Sammy and Cailee Spaeney’s up and comer, tag-along photographer Jessie who idolises Dunst. They set out to infiltrate the no-go zone of Washington and document the President’s imminent defeat. So begins an increasingly perilous road journey across the un-United States, filled with gun-toting redneck vigilantes, bloody skirmishes and a visit to a town that has decided to pretend the war isn’t even happening.


Garland uses Dunst and Spaeney to embody the grit and sacrifice needed to go into war zones and the soul-destroying nature of the life they have chosen. Spaeney starts out all wide-eyed and innocent, gradually becoming a gung-ho war photographer, increasingly putting herself in harm’s way to get the shot. Dunst is her reluctant mentor, initially not wanting her to tag along, but slowly warming to her young protege. Dunst is resigned to her fate of reporting on the frontlines, seemingly unsure why she continues to do her job, other than it’s all she knows how to do.


The film is likely one of the tensest you will see this year. The audience, like the protagonists, is constantly on edge with every encounter potentially deadly. A late run-in with Jesse Plemons’ militia soldier (“What kind of American are you?”) is an absolute nail-biter, shockingly brutal and feels all too plausible.


Ultimately, the film acts as a tribute to the people who risk their lives to document these war zones and try to ensure the truth gets out. If it’s a political diatribe or confirmation bias you’re after, you can get that ad nauseum on Twitter any old time. Instead, we get a pulse-pounding thriller that points a looking glass into a possible near future, where the political divide has ruptured into domestic warfare. If anything it’s a warning, and not just for America.

4.5 / 5

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page