Civil War: Garland masterfully reactivates the adult blockbuster (review)

Civil War: Garland masterfully reactivates the adult blockbuster (review)

At the heart of a new civil war, four journalists rush towards the White House and the scoop of their lives… The brilliant Alex Garland reinvents himself as a mainstream filmmaker.

A post-apo building, the bunker of a mad scientist, a magical forest, the offices of a quantum start-up, a “folk-horror” town: so far the films (and series) directed by Alex Garland were confined to enclosed spaces, places with very defined borders, almost impassable. “Out of this world” places which spoke of the British taste for fantastic cinema with metaphysical aims and miniature scales. Two actors, a cottage and ten minutes of body horror to retrace nothing less than several millennia of male oppression: in 2022, Men had shown the limits of this almost immutable method. The gesture was perhaps a little too radical, the spectacle seemed terminal, the reception was cold and an early retirement was even whispered… This need to evoke the infinitely large through the sole specter of the infinitely small had ended up trap Alex Garlandgiant demiurge for a certain film-loving fringe, dwarf director for others – and first and foremost the general public.

Two years later, Civil War comes to call everything that has gone before into question (methods, scales and desires) and into crisis. It clearly re-acclimates its author to the ambient air. This new project takes the form of a road movie, mainly carried out “outside the cabin” and which will stretch along the American east coast. Four journalists including two photojournalists (the mentor, Kirsten Dunstand his disciple, Cailee Spaeny) head from New York to Washington DC, to get a scoop, that is to say a meeting with a president walled up in his White House at a time when several states, which have just seceded, are trying at all costs to overthrow him .

If we only consider it through this pitch, Civil War looks like a clear allegory of the American divide and its barricaded POTUS would be nothing other than a simile-Trump with a cackle finally reduced. A bit short ? Yes, except that Garland always keeps ideological opposition and satirical verve at bay to concentrate instead on his group of journalists, who hold a certain neutrality in principle and are naturally adept at stepping aside.

Between each pit stop and each piece of bravery, the film questions the strange condition of its heroes seeking to “capture” a world which is literally imploding before their eyes. The distance they will cover is not very phenomenal (400 miles, barely) but it is enough for Civil War can decline a whole range of very “Garlandian” situations and settings (an urban palace without electricity, a small town under a bell tower, a stretch of road guarded by a sniper), which once put together, offer this tale told “askew” an astonishing epic breath.


It will culminate in a gripping climax, a big piece of action captured for once in the heart of the conflict, and lined with explosions, tensions and tragedies. If these vignettes filled with fury and chaos ring so true, it's because Civil War was truly conceived as a sort of blockbuster for adults (its budget of 60 million makes it the most expensive object ever made by the very chic house A24) and that it reactivates a Hollywood production format with a forgotten flavor, and which we could call “middle film”. It is from this middle position, located far, far away, from fractals and insoluble equations, that Alex Garland today finds his balance and can redesign his status in the Hollywood landscape. Seen from where we are, it seems large, infinitely large even.

Civil War, by Alex Garland. With Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny, Wagner Moura… Duration 1h49. Released April 17, 2024

Similar Posts