Civil War viewers are left stunned by Jesse Plemons ‘dead-eyed’ performance in dystopian thriller about a fractured America – that imagines a US torn apart by a Trump third term

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Written By Maya Cantina
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  • Directed by British writer and filmmaker Alex Garland, the film shows viewers a not-to-distant version of America with a brash egomaniacal character sitting in the Oval Office for his third term 

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Civil War. 

A ‘bone chilling’ scene in box office smash Civil War in which ‘dead-eyed’ Jesse Plemons dishes out vigilante justice on those he deems ‘unAmerican’ left moviegoers stunned this past weekend. 

The dystopian thriller also received high praise from critics and fans alike for its depiction of a country ravaged with violence, helmed by a despotic Donald Trump-like character. 

The movie, directed by British filmmaker and writer Alex Garland, raked in $25 million at the box office in the US this past weekend.  

In Civil War, the collapse of political discourse has seen conflict break out across the country, with bizarrely Texas and California teaming up in order to secede from the union. 

Amid all of this, a team of journalists, led by Kristen Dunst, travel to DC in order to interview the commander-in-chief, played by Nick Offerman, who is in his third term in office and who without evidence proclaims that the civil war is close to an end. 

Cailee Spaeny and Jesse Plemons in one of the movie’s most heart-stopping scenes 

The bizarre strawberry tinted sunglasses worn by Plemons were the actor's choice

The bizarre strawberry tinted sunglasses worn by Plemons were the actor’s choice

Portland police officers chase demonstrators after a riot was declared during a protest against the killing of Daunte Wright on April 12, 2021 in the city, a scene comparable to the violence seen in Civil War

Portland police officers chase demonstrators after a riot was declared during a protest against the killing of Daunte Wright on April 12, 2021 in the city, a scene comparable to the violence seen in Civil War 

It’s revealed that Dunst’s character attained fame by capturing a renowned image during ‘The Antifa Massacre.’ The incident is not elaborated upon, meaning we don’t know if Antifa members were massacred or did the massacring themselves.  

Along their journey, the group encounters an unnamed violent racist played by Plemons. Clad in strawberry-colored sunglasses and military fatigues, the unnamed character acts a judge, jury and literal executioner to those he deems unAmerican.

‘What kind of American are you?,’ Plemons, the real life husband of Dunst, asks her group. It’s clear he’s the leader of a group of militiamen who surround the area. Directly beside him, sits a dump truck packed with corpses. 

Plemons opens fire on anyone whose answer he doesn’t like. 

As he’s about to turn his gun to the youngest member of the group, Jessie, played by Cailee Spaeny, another of their group crashes into the scene in their truck killing, Plemons and allowing our heroes to escape. 

Speaeny told The Los Angeles Times that filming the scene with Plemons was ‘very scary.’ 

The actor explained that she and Plemons spent most of the day of shooting together in character, improvising the scene. 

Garland had set up the shot so that no cameras were visible, making it more ‘immersive’ for the actors. 

‘So you weren’t seeing some crew guy wandering in the background eating a bag of chips — you didn’t have a traditional close-up,’ she said. 

‘It felt very immersive. That stunt sequence was incredible. And by the time we all got into that car, when Stephen comes and picks us up, God, it felt really real. That whole sequence. The scene, the way it’s written is just completely chilling.’ 

Plemons, playing an unnamed violent racist, holds people at gunpoint while asking about their origins

Plemons, playing an unnamed violent racist, holds people at gunpoint while asking about their origins 

Civil War takes the shape of a road movie: a trunkful of journalists driving from New York City to their date with destiny in Washington, D.C.

Civil War takes the shape of a road movie: a trunkful of journalists driving from New York City to their date with destiny in Washington, D.C.

In the movie, Nick Offerman plays a despotic three term president

In the movie, Nick Offerman plays a despotic three term president

In the past, Trump has made statements surrounding a 'third term'

In the past, Trump has made statements surrounding a ‘third term’

The $50 million film shot in Georgia is the most expensive production yet from studio A24

The $50 million film shot in Georgia is the most expensive production yet from studio A24

¿The plan is to make a compelling and engaging film,' Garland said 'And the product of the compelling and engaging film is a conversation

‘The plan is to make a compelling and engaging film,’ Garland said ‘And the product of the compelling and engaging film is a conversation

The scene is described as both ‘pivotal’ and ‘terrifying’ in various reviews. 

One X user described Plemons a putting in a performance worthy of an ‘Oscar nomination’ despite only being on screen for around 15 minutes. 

Another noted that the costume team deserve ‘big kudos’ for ‘fully understanding the menacing nature of tinted sunglasses.’ 

‘The Jesse Plemons scene in Civil War is one of the all time great suspense sequences in recent memory. He’s such a great actor for the things he doesn’t do, so many fun facial tics while never once raising his voice,’ said another. 

Garland said in an interview that the outrageous glasses were Plemons’ idea. 

Dunst also revealed while promoting the movie that the original actor slated to do the role dropped out and Plemons volunteered to step in.  

His character is not named as a supporter of the president depicted in the movie leaving a suggestion that he’s a law on to himself. 

In a review for Variety, Owen Gleiberman wrote of Plemons’ scene: ‘For a few moments, the movie looks like a reflection of part of America today.’

The Hollywood Reporter’s Richard Newby wrote that the scene epitomized ‘our modern-day political discourse.’

In an interview with Time magazine, Garland said that the violent vigilantes were inspired by warlords from regimes such as the Khmer Rouge. 

The feedback from moviegoers has been largely positive

The feedback from moviegoers has been largely positive 

There’s no clear reference to Offerman’s character being based on Donald Trump, nor whether he’s a Republican or a Democrat. 

During a red carpet interview, Offerman explicitly stated that ‘[the Trump comparison] didn’t even come up,’ according to the Reporter. 

He also said the movie was ‘unrelated to any actual factions or politicians. That’s what I think is so brilliant about this film. Everybody on any side of the aisle or any faction has a lot to say, and we’re all immediately divisive and partisan in our conversations.’ 

However, during his ill-fated 2020 presidential campaign, Trump openly stated that that he was ready to ‘negotiate’ in order for him to secure ‘another four years’ in the White House, provided he won that year’s election. 

More recently, Trump has said that he would be a ‘dictator’ for one day in order for him take revenge on his political rivals. 

In a review, conservative pop culture site OutKick’s David Hookstead said that the takes ‘shots at both sides of the aisle.’ 

‘It’s not liberal or conservative. It’s not Republican or Democrat. It’s a war movie about killing, and not just killing random people – killing your fellow citizens,’ Hookstead added. 

Although liberal outlet The Daily Beast described it as an ‘explosive warning against a Trump takeover.’ 

In a damming review, the New York Post’s Johnyn Oleksinski wrote that Civil War is ‘no more vital to the discourse than The Purge and is about one percent as entertaining.’ 

Most fan reactions have been more positive, most praising the apolitical nature of the plot. 

‘#CivilWar worked for me. I was nervous the entire runtime. Masterclass tension & haunting sound design. A very compelling POV of war journalists. Smart move to keep it apolitical, imo. (Cailee) Spaeny is a star.’ 

The viewer wasn’t entirely satisfied either.

‘My only cons are a few silly script decisions. A very scary & visceral film.’

‘Very much in the pro #CivilWar camp (the movie ofc; don’t get it twisted!). There is no clear-cut ideology for the central conflict, true, but the movie *itself* has a clear-cut ideology, which is what really matters,’ said another. 

‘Surprisingly very impressed with #CivilWar. It smartly doesn’t pick a side, leading to a film that just focuses on journalists and their eagerness to capture the battlefield. There are some haunting moments, and the performances are all very strong. Truly thought-provoking,’ opined another viewer.   

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