Civil War, Alex Garland’s Gripping War Between the Cinematic States

A still from director Alex Garland’s film “Civil War.” (Courtesy A24)

My derriere still hurts from sitting on the edge of my seat at an IMAX theater while gawking at London-born director Alex Garland’s Civil War, which draws its inspiration from the USA’s contemporary red-state-versus-blue-state zeitgeist. Civil War marks the second time in US history – since Major-General Robert Ross’ British soldiers invaded the White House on August 24, 1814 – that the Executive Mansion has been attacked by Brits. But although this chilling movie’s director is indeed an Englishman, the armed invaders in the provocative Civil War are actually Americans engaged in this insurrectionary, incendiary fable that has the ring of truth.

In Civil War Garland brings the war home with his stark, startling dramatization of the type of fierce combat Americans are used to watching from afar on screens – and from their perches in imperialist cockpits and tank turrets – but are being fought right here in the homeland. As armed rebels march on Washington, D.C. – not on some hapless Third World country du jour – we witness shocking scenes of the Lincoln Memorial and White House, as well as the heartland, under attack in Civil War. (However, a closeup of machine gun nests in the Statue of Liberty’s torch, which is depicted in posters, does not seem to actually appear per se onscreen.)

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Ed Rampell was named after legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Senator Joe McCarthy. Rampell majored in Cinema at Manhattan’s Hunter College and is an L.A.-based film historian/critic who co-organized the 2017 70th anniversary Blacklist remembrance at the Writers Guild theater in Beverly Hills and was a moderator at 2019’s “Blacklist Exiles in Mexico” filmfest and conference at the San Francisco Art Institute. Rampell co-presented “The Hollywood Ten at 75” film series at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and is the author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States and co-author of The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.    

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