When it comes to the world of entertainment there is very little that writer/filmmaker Alex Garland hasn’t done. His debut novel, The Beach, which was released back in 1996 focussed on his travels to Thailand and made him an instant hit in the literature world.

The book also garnished the attention of award-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle who turned it into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. From there Boyle and Garland then teamed up in a screenwriter/director relationship with Garland penning 28 Days Later and Sunshine for Boyle. Then with his screenwriting career becoming a success Garland then found himself in the spotlight with 2012’s Dredd – a film that he had written and then due to some creative differences found himself virtually co-directing.

With Hollywood praising his directing skills Garland then delivered Ex Machina which soon became a cult classic and since then every time Garland has worked on a film it has become something that cinema audiences eagerly anticipate.

Now comes Garland’s latest film Civil War which is perhaps one of the most intelligent films that you are likely to see this year. While the trailers of the film may make it seem like it is an all out action blockbuster, like he did with Sunshine and Dredd, once again Garland has made an action film that will also leave his audience deep in thought.

The film is set in the not too distant future and America is in the middle of a civil war. With the presidency dissolved into a dictatorship under the reign of the current President (Nick Offerman – Origin) various militias and rebel groups have risen up against the US Armed Forces.

With word that a group known as the WF (Western Forces) are about to attack Washington and kill the President world renowned photo-journalist, Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst – Spider-Man), and journalist, Joel (Wagner Moura – Narcos), decide to travel into the danger zone in an attempt to score what could potentially be the President’s last interview.

Their trip is made even more dangerous by the fact that Joel decides to bring along aging reporter Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson – Dune: Part One) and eager young photo-journalist Jessie (Cailee Spaeny – Priscilla) who is eager to learn from her mentor, Lee.

Like the characters at hand the audience are taken on a real journey as Garland explores what a modern day Civil War might leave America looking like. From out of control forest fires through to abandoned and bombed department stores right through to small town militias ready to kill any stranger who strays into their habitat everything is presented to the audience in a way that it almost appears to be a foreboding prediction of what may happen in the future.

Of course Garland is a smart enough writer to make a social commentary on the current US political landscape without actually mentioning any high profile names and even the fact that there are small details like California and Texas aligning to form one part of the resistance shows that this is one screenplay that is not going to reveal its hand in its entirety. The fact that Garland also uses photo-journalists rather than soldiers as the storytellers also adds to the sense that the film is not taking political sides.

What does work here though is the way that Garland has teamed up with cinematographer Rob Hardy (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) to make this film as eerily realistic as possible. Whether it be capturing a burnt out helicopter in a carpark or showing vision of a soldier catching fire it is all delivered onto the screen in such a way that the audience will feel like they are watching television news footage.

Adding to that realism are the performances of the film’s lead. Kirsten Dunst is brilliant as the almost cold-hearted Lee. It takes a certain skill for an actress to be able to deliver a powerful performance while playing a character that shows so little emotion but Dunst does it brilliantly.

She is also well supported by Cailee Spaeny who plays a polar opposite character who wears every emotion on her sleeve. Spaeny’s performance here actually exceeds her recent critically acclaimed performance as Priscilla Presley and the scenes she shares here with Dunst are always dramatic and brilliant.

Wagner Moura is also terrific as the adrenaline junkie Lee but perhaps the most memorable performance aside from Dunst in this film is from her real-life husband Jesse Plemons (The Power Of The Dog) as a homicidal rebel soldier prepared to kill anyone he deems to be un-American.

Civil War is not an easy film to watch. Many of its visuals and themes are graphic and the tension throughout is unrelenting yet this is still a film that needs to be seen in a cinema. This is the kind of film where the audience’s mind is tricked into smelling the smoke and feeling the heat because of its stark realism and as you watch the film you are reminded of what an amazing filmmaker Alex Garland really is.

5/5 Stars