Saturday, May 04, 2024

Civil War

Alex Garland: Civil War (GB/US 2024). Great poster, but in the movie, the most powerful symbol is the Washington obelisk.

Civil War / Civil War.
    GB/US 2024 [year of release] © 2023 [Miller August Rights LLC tbc]. Production companies: DNA Films, IPR.VC. Produced by Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Gregory Goodman
Directed by Alex Garland
Written by Alex Garland
Cinematography by Rob Hardy
Music by Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow
Edited by Jake Roberts
    Wikipedia: Cast
- Kirsten Dunst as Lee Smith, a renowned war photojournalist from Colorado. She is said to be the youngest-ever member of the Magnum Photos cooperative. The character's first name is a reference to famed World War II photojournalist Lee Miller.
- Wagner Moura as Joel, a Reuters journalist from Florida and Lee's colleague
- Cailee Spaeny as Jessie Cullen, an aspiring young photographer from Missouri who accompanies Lee and Joel on their journey
- Stephen McKinley Henderson as Sammy, a veteran journalist for The New York Times and Lee's mentor
- Nick Offerman as the President of the United States, a dictatorial president currently serving his third term
- Sonoya Mizuno as Anya, a British reporter embedded with the Western Forces' advance on the capital
- Jefferson White as Dave, Anya's cameraman
- Nelson Lee as Tony, a Hongkonger reporter who is good friends with Lee and Joel
- Evan Lai as Bohai, a Hongkonger reporter who is a colleague of Tony
- Jesse Plemons as a racist ultranationalist militant who holds the journalists at gunpoint. Plemons was not credited for the role.
- Karl Glusman as a spotter
- Jin Ha as a sniper
- Juani Feliz as Secret Service Agent Joy Butler
    Loc: - Atlanta, Georgia. - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
    Language: English
    109 min
    Distributed by: A24 (United States), Entertainment Film Distributors (United Kingdom)
    Release dates:
Festival premiere: 14 March, 2024 South by Southwest (SXSW)
London premiere: 11 April, 2024 BFI IMAX, London
US premiere: 12 April, 2024
Finnish premiere 19 April 2024 - released by Cinemanse - Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Ilse Rönnberg / Charlotte Elo
    Viewed at Finnkino Tennispalatsi 10, Helsinki, Saturday 4 May 2024

Tagline: " Welcome to the frontline. "

Official logline: " An adrenaline-fueled thrill ride through a near-future fractured America balanced on the razor's edge. "

IMDb logline (from SXSW): " A journey across a dystopian future America, following a team of military-embedded journalists as they race against time to reach DC before rebel factions descend upon the White House. "

The division of the United States in the movie:
    Loyalist states (United States)
    Western Forces
    Florida Alliance
    New People's Army

AA: Alex Garland's Civil War is a dystopia, a war movie and a war journalist movie. Not a true genre movie, Civil War remains unclassifiable, with elements of science fiction and horror. Not a political movie in a specific way, it is a vision about a broken society. One of the trailers in the show was for Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, resonating with the main picture.

Civil War reminds me of Medium Cool (US 1969), Die Fälschung (DE 1981), The Year of Living Dangerously (AU 1982), The Killing Fields (GB 1984), Welcome to Sarajevo (GB 1997) and Mr. Jones (PL 2019). Most of all it reminds me of Apocalypse Now (US 1979), not a journalist movie, but another journey to the heart of darkness.

When the film starts, the war is about to come to a conclusion. A team of journalists rushes towards Washington D.C. for the biggest scoop - the surrender of the increasingly dictatorial president (Nick Offerman).

Besides the daredevil Joel (Wagner Moura) there is his close colleague, the star photographer Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst), and her mentor, the journalist veteran Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) "from what is left of The New York Times", the voice of reason. There is competition but even more importantly, solidarity. In the beginning, Lee rescues a cub photojournalist, Jessie Cullen (Cailee Spaeny), from a suicide bombing scene. During the journey there are even more engrossing instances of "what greater love is there than one willing to lay down their life for his friends".

Lee is not exactly happy to learn that she is Jessie's role model. Clearly Lee would not recommend anybody to follow her. Next morning, to her dismay, Lee finds out that Joel has invited Jessie to join their perilous journey from New York to Washington, D.C. It is an infernal odyssey. War brings out the worst of us.

The idol of both Lee Smith and Jessie Cullen is Lee Miller, the legendary photographer and photojournalist, honoured by Lee Smith even in her name. In the centenary year of surrealism, we remember Lee Miller as Man Ray's model, companion and herself the creator of some of the most memorable surrealist photographs. In WWII Lee Miller became a top war correspondent, often teaming with David E. Scherman. 

This war is different from the Second World War. In the Temptations song "War" (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong, 1970), the chorus was "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing", but here a further step is taken: for many, what is the war about? "Absolutely nothing". It is about violence for violence's sake. It is about the killing instinct.

Media is getting obsolete. Nobody reads. There is no internet. The star journalists are after the biggest scoop. But who is going to know? The victorious army gets its trophy like in a big game hunt. It is a hollow victory for both soldiers and their journalist-parasites in a world without values.



A civil war has erupted between the United States government and various regional factions. The president, who now is serving a third term, claims that victory is close at hand. Renowned war photographer Lee Smith saves aspiring photojournalist Jessie Cullen from a suicide bombing in Brooklyn.

Lee and her colleague Joel intend to travel to Washington, D.C., to interview and photograph the president before the city falls. Lee's mentor Sammy asks to accompany them as far as Charlottesville, where the Western Forces ("WF") of Texas and California are assembling for a final offensive. Despite Lee's hesitance, she and Joel agree. Lee is not aware that Jessie convinces Joel to take her with them as well.

After departing the city, the group stops at a rural gas station protected by armed men, and buys gas with Canadian dollars, as the value of the US dollar has crashed because of the war. Jessie wanders off to a nearby car wash, where she finds two men being tortured by the owners, who claim that the men are looters. One owner follows Jessie, but Lee defuses the situation by taking a photo of the man posing with his victims. After they leave, Jessie berates herself for being too scared to take photos.

Following an overnight stop near ongoing fighting, the group documents the combat the next day as militiamen assault a building held by loyalists. Lee sees Jessie's potential as a war photographer, while Jessie photographs the militia executing captured loyalist soldiers. Continuing, the group spends the night at a refugee camp before passing through a small town where, under watchful guard, residents attempt to live in blissful ignorance. Lee and Jessie grow closer, trying on clothes at a local shop.

Later, they are pinned down in a sniper battle amid the remains of a Christmas fair. The snipers mock Joel's attempts to ascertain which party they are fighting for or against, telling Joel that they and the sniper in a nearby house are simply trying to survive. Jessie's nerve builds and her photography skills improve as she witnesses several deaths, and develops a mentorship under Lee. Jessie asks if Lee would photograph Jessie being killed, and Lee responds “What do you think?”, implying she might.

While driving, the four encounter two other reporters they know, Tony and Bohai. Tony and Jessie playfully switch vehicles, only for Bohai and Jessie to be captured by loyalist death squads who are dumping civilian corpses in a mass grave. The rest of the group tries to intervene, but a militant kills Bohai and asks where the others are from, killing Tony when he says Hong Kong. Sammy saves the group by running over two of the militants, but is shot by a third and dies as they flee.

Arriving at the WF military camp in Charlottesville, the group grieves in different ways. Lee takes a photo of Sammy's corpse but deletes it shortly after. Joel gets drunk and begins to become hysterical. Jessie explores the campsite. Two fellow reporters inform the group that the government's top generals have mostly surrendered, leaving Washington largely unprotected, and a Western invasion is imminent. They follow the WF into DC as Jessie's photography becomes increasingly risky. Meanwhile, Lee has a brief post-traumatic stress disorder episode and is unable to take pictures.

In the besieged capital, the presidential limousine unsuccessfully attempts to flee the White House, but when the limousine crashes, Lee intuits that the president is still in the building and leads her group inside. A WF squad follows and faces off with the remaining Secret Service, including one in the Pressroom, who unsuccessfully tries to negotiate safe passage of the President to Greenland or Alaska. When Jessie exposes herself to gunfire to get a photo of the ensuing West Wing gunfight, Lee pushes her to safety. Jessie photographs Lee as she is shot dead in the crossfire.

The Western soldiers capture the president in the Oval Office. Joel tells them to wait so he can get a quote. The disheveled president begs Joel for mercy, saying "Don't let them kill me". Joel replies, "Yeah. That'll do." Jessie takes a photo of the president's summary execution; smiling Western soldiers pose with his corpse.

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