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Alex Garland’s ‘Civil War’ Is an Explosive Warning Against a Trump Takeover

By Nick Schager

American democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse, and writer/director Alex Garland exploits that feeling for unbearably despairing suspense and censure with Civil War, a vision of a near-future in which the United States is no longer united. Less interested in devising one-to-one parallels with our present than with laying bare the catastrophic consequences of the division, hatred, and apathy that currently run amok from coast to coast, the Annihilation and Men auteur’s latest, in theaters April 12, is a portrait of individual and societal breakdown that plays like a companion piece to his 28 Days Later, except that this time around the vicious monsters are all of us. Spearheaded by a poignant Kirsten Dunst performance, and rife with harrowing, pulse-pounding set pieces, it’s a towering genre film about a not-so-fanciful end times—one that both understands, and proves, the peerless power of the visual image.

In a New York hotel room, acclaimed war photographer Lee (Kirsten Dunst) watches the country’s president (Nick Offerman) proclaim, not very convincingly, that a great government victory over the secessionist Western Forces campaign led by California and Texas is on the horizon. Outside, explosions boom, and as she lies in a bathtub, her face in her hands, Lee recalls some of the numerous unforgettable examples of man’s cruelty from her globe-trotting career. What once was distant and foreign, however, is now commonplace at home, as is reinforced when she and her journalist partner Joel (Wagner Moura) cover a city event that turns fatal, and which compels Lee to instinctively save the life of Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), an aspiring photojournalist whose naivete is a grave threat to her safety.

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