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Review of Civil War, The Movie (2024)

Since I write books about the United States’ second Civil War, I feel like I should write a review about the movie Civil War, which got its full release on April 14. I saw it last night and in a word, it was a terrific movie.

For those of you who don’t know about the movie or who know a little about it, the scene that sets the background for the movie is a civil war that’s taking place in the US. Importantly, the film is vague on the war’s particulars.

The length of the war isn’t mentioned. A few possible causes of the war are hinted at, but they’re mostly quick throwaways. And the two sides of the conflict and their motivations for fighting are not touched on at all. No doubt all of this was done to avoid dragging the movie into the current schism that is afflicting the US. In this regard, I think this was the right call by the director, Alex Garland. In my opinion, this approach should make the movie consumable by everyone in the United States regardless of their political leanings. 

Instead of getting into the grand politics of the conflict, the movie tells its story by following a foursome of journalists who need to make their way from New York to Washington, DC because the Western Forces (made up of an alliance between California and Texas) are about to descend on the US capital and perhaps end the war.

With their destination set, what follows is a series of unrelated scenes that paint a compelling and scary vision of what the United States would like during a civil war. Other reviews I read about the movie found this part of the film a bit jerky or slow, but I was mesmerized by it. Each scene displayed a different and intimate part of the war and by the time you get to the third act where the journalists make it to DC, you have a full and unvarnished understanding of how terrible war is and how Americans might treat each other and fight if their country went to shit. It filled a lot of the gaps for me.

The final part of the movie is the classic big picture Hollywood and is as good as any movie out there that tries to seriously depict high-intensity war (Blackhawk Down is the movie that comes to mind). I won’t get into the details, other than to say that if you found the first two acts of the movie slow, the last act will give you a jolt and then a full sense of satisfaction.

As the final battle gets waged, the film continues to follow the journalists, and now that you have a full understanding of who they are and what motivates them, you are fully pulled into their storyline. Through their eyes, the final part of the movie comes to an end and when it does end, you are left with a feeling of what I would describe as awe. Awe because although the story was fictional, you feel like you were just allowed to watch a major piece of United States history unfold in real time.

So to sum up, Civil War is a great flick, and I give it five stars. The one thing I did find a little bit distracting was the movie’s soundtrack. In a word it was bizarre but in the end, it didn’t take enough from the movie for me not to think it was an extremely compelling piece of cinema. Oh, and the acting and cinematography were superb. Kristin Dunst was terrific and the rest of the cast wasn’t far behind.          

Now, just for a moment, I’m going to take off my movie reviewer hat and put on my political commentary hat. If you don’t like politics, then stop reading. But if you’re interested in getting my political take on Civil War, feel free to continue.

Above, I said the movie doesn’t get into politics but I also mentioned that it does offer a few hints as to why the war happened and who the bad guy is, and outside of the excellent storytelling and action of the film, it is these little nuggets that I think make this film something to talk about.

I’m just gonna come out and say it. While the movie goes out of its way not to portray the President of the United States as a Trump-like character, it offers what I believe to be several hints that would leave you to believe that Civil War is a cautionary tale for all Americans regarding president #45. There are spoilers below, so be warned.

So, what are these hints?

As I said above, they don’t hit you over the head with them. They’re subtle and in my opinion, this helps to make the movie more atmospheric, scary and impactful.

The first hint refers to the President, being a third-term president. As you will know, presently in the US, presidents can only serve two terms. But do you know who’s talked about “negotiating” with Congress to become a third-term president? You know who.

The second hint is made when one of the journalists mentions that the president shut down the FBI. Now, while DJT hasn’t explicitly threatened to shut down the FBI, he has most certainly made claims that the Deep State actively worked against him during his first administration and that he could take reprisals against the Deep State if he were ever to become president again.

Is it hard to imagine a situation where Trump might suggest that an agency like the FBI should be shut down? It’s entirely possible. Is it impossible to think of any other US politician making the same suggestion? I think it’s improbable or even impossible that any other mainstream politician in the US would make this kind of suggestion. So IMHO, this is another dig at no. 45.   

The third and final hint is a bit more subtle and perhaps I’m reading a bit too much into the symbolism, but I’ll go there anyway. There is a powerful scene where the journalists stumble on a massacre in progress. The person who seems to be the leader of that massacre is wearing a pair of red glasses. And by red, I mean even the lenses. I thought the color was an interesting choice. Who wears red glasses? I mean nobody, but then it struck me – ahhh… red glasses, red MAGA hats. I see what you did there, Mr. Garland.

Now, nowhere in this scene is it implied the soldier who’s conducting the massacre is linked with the President, but he doesn’t have to be. The red glasses are an implication of MAGA and Trump and with the other hints mentioned above, I couldn’t help but see the underlying message that the movie was trying to make.

For me, these subtle hints added a more realistic and threatening feel to the movie, which as I think about it now, made the film even better. In this way, Civil War is a bit of an onion. No doubt if I watched it again, I might see some other things. Or perhaps I’m just crazy. 

In any event, I think Civil War is a great movie. Go see if you haven’t already and if you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. 



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