What Newsers Are Saying About A24’s Civil War: ‘One of the Best Films About Journalism’

By Ethan Alter 

Based on the unnerving trailers, you’d be forgiven for assuming that A24’s newly-minted hit, Civil War, is a dystopian combat movie—think Oliver Stone‘s Platoon meets Philip Roth‘s The Plot Against America. But Alex Garland‘s new film, which topped the weekend box office charts, is first and foremost a salute to journalists, particularly those who put their lives on their line by reporting from the front lines of war-torn nations.

“I said to someone I know in the film industry, ‘I’m going to try to make a film where journalists are the heroes,'” the writer/director behind cult favorites like Ex Machina and Annihilation remarked in a recent interview with the Associated Press. To Garland’s surprise, though, his acquaintance strongly warned him off celebrating the fourth estate. “It sort of shocked me,” he remembered. “A free press protects the people against the excesses of government.”


In Garland’s scarily persuasive alternate reality, California and Texas have joined forces to attack the authoritarian excesses of an unnamed president played by Nick Offerman. With the White House under siege and days away from falling, two Reuters journalists—photographer Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and writer Joel (Wagner Moura)—decide to get the soon-to-be deposed leader’s exit interview.

Securing that scoop involves a perilous road trip from New York to Washington, D.C., where once-ordinary citizens have become armed combatants. Along the way, Lee’s camera captures both the mundane and horrifying images of a country in crisis and she imparts that expertise to Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), the combat photographer-in-training that embedded herself with her mentor.

Kirsten Dunst plays a combat zone photographer in Alex Garland’s Civil War. (Photo: Courtesy A24).

Civil War has generated plenty of hot takes—both pro and con—since the movie premiered at SXSW in March. But many journalists are falling on the pro side, praising Garland for putting the most prominent spotlight on their profession since 2015’s Oscar-winning Spotlight.

“One of the best films about journalism and the importance of independent reporting I’ve ever seen,” Inside Edition investigative correspondent Lisa Guerrero raved on X, formerly known as Twitter.

New York Times Opinion culture editor Adam Sternbergh similarly described the movie as “fantastic.”

Speaking with Spaeny last week ahead of the film’s release, The View’s Sunny Hostin described Civil War as a “love letter to journalism,” and observed that journalists are “really under attack” in contemporary America. “That’s exactly what it is,” the actress replied. “They really truly are heroes who are sacrificing… they’re on the front lines.”

In his interview with Garland, Fox 5’s entertainment reporter Kevin McCarthy got “nerdy” while praising the director’s choice to shoot the film in a 1.85 aspect ratio. “We are referencing and taking our visual cues from news footage and documentaries,” Garland explained.

One of Civil War’s most vocal fans is author and TVNewser founder Brian Stelter, who discussed his eagerness to see the film in a BBC News interview. He posted a follow-up review after his viewing, describing it as a “must-see.”