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Laramie Movie Scope: Civil War (2024)

A haunting view of future strife

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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April 17, 2024 – This movie presents a dystopian view of a future America torn apart by civil war, with the “Western Forces” of Texas and California are attacking Washington D.C. The main characters in this war drama are not the political or military leaders of these warring factions, but four journalists on their way to interview the President (played by Nick Offerman of “Dumb Money”) while he still holds power.

The four journalists are led by veteran war photographer Lee Smith (played by Kirsten Dunst of “Hidden Figures”) and her Reuters colleague Joel (Wagner Moura of “The Gray Man”). Tagging along in the car are noobie photographer Jessie Cullen (Cailee Spaeny of “Priscilla”) and a veteran New York Times reporter, and Smith and Joel's mentor, Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson of “Fences”).

Jessie is naive, thinking this trip will be an adventure, but Lee and Sammy know better. They expect the trip will be full of danger and that Jessie will be exposed to the horrors and inhumanity of civil war. But Jessie is very attractive and she talks Joel into letting her come along on the trip.

The journey to Washington D.C. turns out to be a long journey into the heart of darkness, where life is short, and cheap. They meet up with some fighters who murder people that don't measure up to their standards of being “the right kind of American.” Near a gas station, where U.S. dollars are not honored but Canadian money is, they find so-called looters being tortured.

They find one city where everything seems quite normal, until Sammy notices men with rifles on the roofs of buildings watching them for signs of trouble. Don't make any sudden moves, and everything will continue to seem normal. The scariest thing about the trip is that the rule of law has broken down. All that is left is the law of the jungle.

Along the way, several journalists are killed, and we see others executed in cold blood. While some of the journalists are confused by all the chaos, Lee seems to know exactly where all of this violence is leading to. She has, what journalists call, a nose for news. The two older, war weary, journalists, Lee and Sammy, know exactly what is going on, and they don't like it one little bit.

While riding in the car, Joel talks about the questions he plans to ask the president. Sammy tells him that he'd better ask his best questions before the wire around his neck gets to tight for him to talk.

In an interview on PBS News last night about this film, the director, Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”) said that this movie was made to address his own fears about the future of this country given its political polarization. He pretty much left politics out of this film and instead, made it a film about war, and lawlessness. However, in the location of the staging area for the Western Forces' final assualt on Washington, there is a hint about the politics of this army. It is none other than Charlottesville, Virginia, symbolic, because it was the site of a deadly white supremacist rally in 2017.

In doing so, however, he creates a future that makes no sense, politically, where Texas and California, which are political polar opposites, become allies against a so-called “centrist” government which has become authoritarian, with a president who is elected to an unconstitutional third term. Sorry, but that's extremism, not centrism. Both sides are in a race to outdo each other in their descent into fascism.

I think if there is another civil war, it will be Texas, “red states,” including the Old South, opposing the “blue states,” including California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado was well as some midwestern and most northeastern states. It will be a war between the forces favoring democracy against those seeking an authoritarian form of government.

In the movie, there is mention of various other groups involved in the fighting. A map depicting some of these forces is on this movie's Wikipedia page, depicting the Western Forces, the “Florida Alliance” (most of the Old South) and the “New People's Army” of Western and Northern states (including Wyoming) while the rest are “Loyalist States.” This map assumes that the states are unified enough to stick together as existing states, and not just disintegrate into urban and rural areas that are deeply divided politically.

The biggest flaw in the movie, from the perspective of a journalist, is the camera being used by Jessie. It is an old Nikon camera that uses 35mm film. She might as well be using a Speed Graphic from the last century (I have used these kinds of cameras, and have developed lots of 35mm film, and have done my share of news photography as well). Film cameras like this became obsolete for journalism as soon as digital cameras became advanced enough to supplant them. At least Lee has some good camera equipment, a digital camera with a variety of lenses.

Jessie is a problematic character from the perspective of a journalist. She is a danger to the people around her. She actually does get some people killed because of the chances she takes. At least the older journalists in the movie, Sammy, Lee and Joel, save lives instead of putting others at risk by being careless.

Despite the journalistic and political issues I have with this film, I did find it effective as a warning to those who think it might be a good idea to start a civil war. I found this movie very unsettling in this regard. It is well acted and the story is compelling. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2024 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]