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Bob Hoose

Movie Review

Lee Smith is a veteran war photographer who’s something of a legend among her peers. But frankly, the atrocities she’s photographed have come at a price; they’ve taken a toll on her peace of mind. And now that those atrocities have made their way to America’s city streets and small-town neighborhoods, well, Lee is feeling that cost.

She’s so very tired.

In fact, as Lee sits in her hotel room watching the President of the United States talk about victories against the insurrectionist factions in the country—the California and Texas Western Forces, for instance, and the Florida Alliance—she is feeling almost weary beyond belief.

Why, just today she was but yards away from a protest-focused suicide bomber attack on a group of citizens. The carnage was bloody and devastating. And, of course, she had to grab her camera and take some pics of the torn flesh.

She also happened to end up shielding a young woman, Jessie, near the blast. This twentysomething just happens to be an aspiring photojournalist herself. And instead of being repulsed by the slaughter, she was excited by it. Well, that and the fact that she met the Lee Smith!

When the young woman presses Lee for pointers, Lee politely demurs and wishes her well. But by the next morning, Jessie has somehow insinuated herself into Lee’s traveling group. (Lee’s journalist partner, Joel, is a heavy drinker, and who knows what he’ll agree to once he’s had a few.)

In any case, they’re planning on traveling the 857 miles to Washington D.C. No one has interviewed the President in the longest time. Lee and Joel have it on good authority that, in reality, everything is crumbling in D.C. The Western Forces are poised to attack. The President’s days are numbered. If anyone is going to photograph and interview him, it better be now. And it might as well be them.

Their 857-mile trip, though, covers a very large chunk of increasingly dangerous landscape. Even with a large “PRESS” emblazoned on their vehicle, there’s no guarantee of safe passage. America has been hammered and blasted into something altogether different from what it used to be. And Lee, Joel and Jessie are about to see the bloody cracks of this new land up close.

Positive Elements

Though Lee is haunted by the terrible things she’s seen, she’s still a good person at heart. After initially turning a hard eye on the young Jessie, she eventually reaches out to guide her through the terrible things they encounter. She even goes so far as to shield the young woman with her own body.

Sammy, an older writer for The New York Times, has a long history with Lee. And not only does the elderly man talk to Lee about the young eager photographer she used to be—someone very much like Jessie—he also steps forward to help her and rescue her from harm.

Joel has his faults, as we’ll see. But he’s also a nice guy who tries to help others.

Spiritual Elements

After a national address, the President says, “God bless you, and God bless America.” The group of journalists come upon a Christmas village-like park that’s been torn to pieces by soldiers and a nearby sniper.

Sexual Content

Lee soaks in a bathtub. (We see her bare shoulders and a raised knee.) A guy ogles Jessie while standing behind her.

Violent Content

The bloody violence in Civil War begins small and messy, with riots in full swing and bloody dead on the ground. It then escalates to a full-on military assault on Washington, D.C., with jets, helicopters, tanks and armored assault vehicles.

In the midst of all this carnage, the camera doesn’t shy away from the oozing and squirting mess on display. For instance, we see scores and scores of people blown open and laying in pools of blood on the ground. Wounds gush and cover those giving aid in gore. Bodies fly and splatter from various explosions and high-caliber riddling. On several occasions, viewers are taken into the midst of armed gunbattles among various groups of soldiers, militia, secret service agents, National Guard troops and heavily armed citizens. People are shot and wounded, and they often fall screaming.

We also see people hit with bricks, executed with shots to the head, and bound and set on fire. Men are hung up by their hands in a former carwash, obviously having been tortured in gruesome ways. Those victims are still alive but beaten, swollen and barely coherent. Other victims are quite dead, and they are strung up under bridges and overpasses. A group of soldiers are dragged out of a building and then executed by gleeful men with large automatic weapons.

People are hit by speeding vehicles. A large truckbed full of corpses is backed up and dumped into an open grave, where the dead are then covered with lime. At one point, Jessie falls into this pit and must crawl up over the rotting bodies that coat her in gore. Someone bleeds out slowly in the back of a SUV after being shot;  Lee has to mop out the gore-coated seats.

People are killed point blank, and one such death is celebrated by the killers. (They pose smiling with the bloodied corpse.) Large military vehicles, missiles and explosives demolish various Washington monuments (i.e.: The Lincoln Memorial), rip up buildings and streets, and blast open government buildings with loud, visceral destructiveness.

We also see evidence of past massive destruction such as a large interstate littered with smoking and destroyed cars and trucks. Etc.

Crude or Profane Language

More than 45 f-words and a dozen s-words. These are joined by several uses each of the words “d–n,” “b–tard” and “bulls–t.” Jesus’ and God’s names are misused some four times total. Someone displays an offensive hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Joel smokes repeatedly. We see other people smoke sometimes, too. Joel also uses and shares what appears to be a joint. Lee and Jessie take puffs.

We also see a number of journalists drinking and smoking in the bar of a local hotel. Thereafter, Joel has a bottle of Vodka (or some other form of booze) in his hand every evening. At least once, we see him passed out from his boozing. Lee and Sammy sometimes pass Joel’s ubiquitous bottle around, too.

Other Negative Elements

When Lee and her group pull into a gas station, they offer $300 for half a tank of fuel. The armed station owner says the devalued $300 might get them a cheese sandwich. So they use hundreds of Canadian dollars to buy the gas.

After a horrific experience, Jessie vomits in the car. And then she admits that she had never felt so terrified or alive in her life. From then on, the young woman’s lust for photojournalistic action drives her to make reckless choices. Those choices end up getting someone killed. But Jessie presses on with barely a pause.

Someone compares the President to deadly dictators such as Ceausescu and Gaddafi. They note that he disbanded the FBI and gave rise to the national war through his self-centered hubris.


It’s an election year. And we live in an America that’s feeling the effects of superheated political rhetoric, daily news reports of strife and seemingly unbridgeable ideological divides. Add in an emotional stew of sometimes inflammatory reporting and social media hysteria, and it’s no wonder that everyday citizens are suffering through a pressure cooker sense of uncertainty. Is there anyone you can believe? Is anything actually trustworthy, reasoned and factual?

That kind of environment—one that harkens back to the protest rage of the 1960s, the difficult days of the 1930s or, some even say, the armed hostilities of the 1860s—opens the door for Civil War. This is a film that imagines a worst-case scenario in which a battered and bifurcated country tumbles over its own brink.

Unlike what the film’s trailer might suggest, however, British writer/director Alex Garland doesn’t rub a viewers’ face in his personal brand of political or social commentary. There are definitely hints about where he and his film are leaning, but he keeps things narratively neutral. Civil War doesn’t comment on why its imagined future might be happening, it just asks us to consider the terrible consequences, the horrors, the ugly decimation of things we hold dear.

And it does so through an unflinching and viscerally pounding war story; a character-driven tale of journalism.

In that sense, Civil War is far more than you might expect. It becomes a cautionary tale that shakes its viewers by the lapel and warns against shrieking anger, unbridled exuberance and complacency.

Of course, potential moviegoers must also take into consideration that this is a very R-rated war movie. Torture, execution and pinpoint deadliness is rampant and gushingly bloody. By the time high-tech war is unleashed in the streets of Washington, D.C., and eardrum-pounding explosive rounds rip apart just about everything, living and dead, there is no right or wrong, no good guys or bad. There’s just ground-pounding slaughter.

Viewers are pummeled with the white-knuckled, bloody and very profane stuff of war here. It’s no easygoing stroll with a popcorn bucket.

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Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.