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J.C. Reviews: Civil War Evokes Emotional Drama in a Harrowing Hypothetical America

J.C. Reviews: Civil War Evokes Emotional Drama in a Harrowing Hypothetical America

by James Coulter

The President is a tyrant. The country is divided. And Americans have become so politically polarized that they wage war against each other. No, I’m not describing the upcoming presidential election. I’m describing the latest war drama released by A24: Civil War.

Yes, during a highly-contentious election year, when political polarization is at an all-time high and both sides of the political aisle are warning doom and gloom if their presidential candidate doesn’t get elected, Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, released a movie about American devolving into Civil War. But will this movie unite moviegoers into agreeing it’s a thought-provoking action thriller? Or will it leave audiences more divided than they already were within this highly-divisive political climate?

Set within the near future, Civil War depicts an America where the president has become a tyrant and the country has divided itself into warring factions. (So, you know, right after the current election!) The story follows a ragtag team of photo journalists traveling across the warn-torn country to Washington D.C. to photograph and interview the president. Along the way, they pick up a young girl who dreams of becoming a photographer, but soon discovers her physical constitutions are weaker than her aspirations. Will these journalists succeed in surviving the hellscape that has befallen America and get the story?

Civil War is high cinema. A24 is famous for being an independent studio focused on releasing “cinema” rather than “blockbusters.” Both this movie’s cinematography and its film score (or rather, subtle lack thereof) prove as much.

Most blockbuster action thrillers underscore their action sequences with highly bombastic soundtracks that tell the audience what emotions they’re supposed to be feeling. Civil War is not an action thriller. Instead, most of its action scenes—if not most of its scenes—play out in total silence, with maybe the occasional song playing on the car radio. This silence allows the action to play out loud and clear and for emotions to be evoked naturally without manipulation from the soundtrack.

While the prospect of a modern-day America divided by war is intriguing, the actual war itself merely serves as a set dressing for the film’s narrative. We, as an audience, are never explicitly told why America has become the way it is, why people are fighting, and what causes they are fighting for. As such, we have no idea which side of this Civil War are the good guys and which are the bad. Everything concerning the film’s politics is essentially left up to audience interpetation. What results is a political movie that’s curiously apolitical.

While most critics have lambasted Civil War for being “apolitical”, it’s quite evident the filmmakers are less interested in telling a political drama and more about a character-building journey involving the main characters as they venture across war-torn America to get their story. Essentially, it’s imagining a story about foreign war correspondents covering a war in America. If that’s the story the film wants to tell without political distraction, more power to it.

The problem, then, is with the characters themselves—that is, they don’t have much character. They’re less fully-fledged characters and more common archetypes: the main world-weary

protagonist, the gung-ho macho man who’s in it for the action, the old-timey elderly mentor, and the plucky wide-eye youngster with big dreams but little experience. On the one hand, these common archetypes allow us to dive straight into the story without much needed backstory or exposition, but, on the other hand, with only 1/4s of the cast experiencing any real character growth, this character-driven story has very little character driving it along.

Overall, if you’re looking for a high-octane action with plenty of explosions and chase scenes, o you’re looking for an overt allegory about the current political landscape, this movie is not for you. But if you want a calmer, quieter, yet more harrowing ride though a hypothetical war-torn America, then consider checking out this movie.

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Staff Reporter

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