Civil War Is A Disappointing Look Into The Future

Kirsten Dunst looking into the distance in Civil War.

Civil War is harrowing, terrifying, and succeeds in everything. But, its lackluster script threatens to bring the film down.


In Civil War, a civil war has broken out in which Texas, California, and Florida has seceded from the United States. And with the U.S. losing ground, a group of journalists (Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Caliee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson) travel across the country, in order to get an interview with the President (Nick Offerman).

Civil War Has a Messy Script From Garland

Kirsten Dunst staring into the distance in Civil War.
Kirsten Dunst in Civil War. Courtesy of A24.

“Ten minutes into the future.” That is what writer-director Alex Garland said in 2015 when interviewed by Aaron Jorbin of Indiewire, when he was talking about his directorial debut Ex Machina. With his newest feature, Civil War, never had that felt more prescient. Especially with the film being released in 2024, in another election year for the United States. And in an election year, which could (and is) dividing the country even more so.

Yet with Civil War, Garland (he himself being British) and company craft a harrowing and uncomfortable tale about being impassive and apathy during wartime. This is only compounded by bleak and devastating cinematography by Rob Hardy, serving as director of photography. However, despite its center and strong theme, Garland’s script lacks any central characterization for its protagonists. Instead, the script lets the theme do the talking. Which unfortunately makes the characters one-dimensional. Additionally, the script delivers an unsatisfying conclusion. For someone of Garland’s caliber, this is disappointing as the script feels like a first draft.

Likewise, the production design by Caty Mavey, feels ripped out of our reality. This is even more apparent as the film’s main characters travel through the back end of the United States. Furthermore, this is only amplified by sound designer Glenn Freemantle. Freemantle contrasts the emptiness of deserted roads and towns with gunfire and bullets. In addition, the film creates a contrast within itself. This is mainly regarding the tone, when presenting scenes of violence are displayed. One prime example is during a scene, when the song used “Say No Go” by De La Sale is played while soldiers are being gunned down.

Performances in Civil War

Jessie Plemons holding a gun in Civil War.
Jesse Plemons in Civil War. Courtesy of A24.

When it comes to the cast, Kristen Dunst is the standout performance as war photojournalist Lee Smith. Dunst plays the character as someone that is starting to break down due to the nature of her job. This allows Dunst to flesh out her character beyond the weary, disillusioned archetype. As for the rest of the cast, Wagner Moura and Caliee Spaeny deliver solid performances as Lee’s companions – Joe and Jessie. Moura plays Joe as a maverick thrill-seeker. Meanwhile, Spaney plays Jessie akin to an audience surrogate.

Moreover, Stephen McKinley Henderson brings a great gravitas as Sammy, a mentor to Lee and Joe. Henderson also plays Sammy as the opposite of Dunst’s. Someone who while weary at the world, seeks the better things in life. Lastly, Nick Offerman and Jesse Plemons deliver some gripping performances as the President and an unnamed solider. In particular, Plemons who is terrifying in one of the film’s best scenes. This is all despite the both of them having limited screen-time.


Kirsten Dunst holding a camera in Civil War.
Kirsten Dunst in Civil War. Courtesy of A24.

Overall, Civil War is a harrowing and terrifying look into the future. Unfortunately, while the film succeeds in its cinematography, sound design, and production design, it fails in its screenplay. Particularly when it comes to the film’s conclusion and its characters. Thus, feeling more like a first draft. Despite this, the cast led by Kirsten Dunst provide great performances, taking on the heavy lifting. All in all, this is a disappointing entry from Garland, whom ten minutes beforehand was firing on all cylinders. Ten minutes later, he has fallen considerably.

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