Civil War - will it shake the US?

The answer to the question everyone is asking, is no. Civil War is not the film that will wake up America from its political slumber. It is too hermetic in the sense in which Alex Garland often works, and at the same time, it is way too insufficient in its commentary of the post-truth society. If that was not enought, the potential spectacular side of it is too weak for the film to fulfill its promises.

The first big budget film of A24 does have on paper everything that should be required for success: a strong cast, a capable director, the funds to deliver a spectacle of a certain scale. At the same time, the studio's fame as an indie powerhouse almost cementified the potentials of an imagined retelling of a future civil war in United States, seen from the perspective of a war photographer. Civil War was set to succeed on all fronts. The subject matter practically ensured the potentials of a film that could be as divisive,a s harrowing and as complex as needed.

Yet, war photographer Lee Smith and her team's journey ends up falling flat. The lack of context and the excess of commentary on it become frustrating, the scenery remains way too lush for what is supposed to be a war-thorn country. The most shocking sequences are mild if compared to other films that have dealth with the horrors of war. 

Reading Civil War as a film about war ultimately is so disfunctional that a different interpretative lens has to employed: that of reportage photography and war journalism. In the cinematography, that reproduces the bokeh of DSLR photography rather than that of cinematic cameras, in the persistent thematicisation of the form of exploitation that Lee employs through the photographic capture of some inhuman aspects of warfare, lies the centrality of the journalistic approach and its relation with its subjects.

While this thematic choice leads to some interesting considerations and outcomes, Civil War still fails to address an important question concerning the realities of the current era of mediatic information: not once the film dares to explore manipulations or the lack of neutrality in modern media, an aspect that we continuously see in these exact days when it comes to most wars fought on the globe. 

The worst aspect is that the film claims political neutrality but does not cease to point at a moral good and bad relation when it comes to the factions that it features: the president is clearly perceived by all the main characters as a tyrant, to the extent that the feeling is that this film was conceived with a specific political alignment in mind, for a time when a specific president was in charge in the USA. Had it dared to be more neutral, or even, had it dared to explore more the political fiction of the film to provide it more depth, Civil War could have fulfilled its promise. 

It is the editing choices that make Civil War an uncompelling watch: the most gruesome scenes are often diluted with uplifting music in a very typical exploitation trope, the storyline way too compressed, and hardly conveys tension - something Garland was good at in previous films. From the sequences that can be seen in the film, it is extremely apparent that the material to further flesh out some scenes that were resumed in music montages does exist, but was scrapped in the editing room - as if the passion for the film dried out in post-production. 

Despite how negative this review might sound be, Civil War does leave some space for the film that is should have been. Some sequences call back to the visual splendour of Men, the cast is absolutely in its dimension - with Jesse Plemons and Nick Offerman obviosly stealing the show in their very brief roles. It really seems that, somewhere inside Civil War, there is a better film that has not been pulled out. 

Ultimately, the feeling is that Civil War remains too safe: it should sicken its viewer, but it does not; it should cause an important political debate, but does not even scratch the surface; by centering the film on war journalism, it should address a series of themes, but it stops at the most appariscent ones; and finally, it feels a idle film, that has been abandoned by its (very talented) author in post production, leaving only occasional glimpses of grandeur of the film that it could have been, and was very close to become.


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