Civil War

Kirsten Dunst stars in a scene from the movie "Civil War." (OSV News photo/A24)

NEW YORK (OSV News) — The psychological and ethical complexities of front-line journalism are explored in depth in the dystopian drama “Civil War” (A24). The result is an engrossing but distressingly realistic film that’s fit for only a relatively small audience of grown viewers.

Writer-director Alex Garland uses the context of an imaginary second American civil war, unfolding in the near future, to probe the role of battlefield reporters. As the highly destructive conflict nears its last stages, a group of four journalists sets out for a besieged Washington to chronicle the struggle’s climax.

They’re led by celebrated photographer Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst). Joining her are her longtime colleague Joel (Wagner Moura), their aging mentor Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), a youthful professional neophyte anxious to emulate Lee.

Despite her hard-bitten demeanor and initial reluctance to do so, Lee eventually takes on the role of Jessie’s mentor and the two bond.

Through their relationship, Garland delves into the paradoxical situation of professionals who place themselves in the midst of strife yet remain aloof from any direct involvement in it. He also shows his audience how the desire to capture a story at all costs can lead to warped priorities and a loss of humanity.

Along the way to a wrap-up that’s stark to the point of cynicism, Garland’s depiction of the widespread mayhem that has engulfed large swaths of the country is unstintingly frank. A sequence featuring Jesse Plemons in the role of an unnamed soldier, moreover, showcases the degrading cruelty and lust for power that can be unleashed by the chaos of combat.

Some exaggerated reactions and behavior on the part of its characters notwithstanding, “Civil War” is a powerful meditation on significant themes. But it’s not a picture for the fainthearted — or for those who just want to munch their popcorn in peace.

The film contains much graphic, gory violence, including torture, gruesome images, a couple of profanities, a few milder oaths, pervasive rough language and numerous crude terms. The OSV News classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


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