Express & Star

Film Talk: Kirsten Dunst leads the action in Civil War

Who can forget that fateful upside-down kiss?

Civil War: Kirsten Dunst as Lee and Cailee Spaeny as Jessie

Without question one of the most iconic moments in superhero moviedom, this heated snog with Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, put our leading lady of the week firmly on the map.

Yet, many of us will remember Kirsten Caroline Dunst from a bit further back. In the board game flick to end all board game flicks, Dunst starred as Judy ‘it-must-be-microchips-or-something’ Shepherd – one of the two 90s kids who get sucked into the world of Jumanji, where a rather dishevelled Robin Williams has been living his not-so-best jungle life. And before this, of course, there was Interview with the Vampire. This sublime bit of Brad-Pitt-Tom-Cruisiness placed a very young Dunst centre stage as the surrogate daughter of the dark vamp duo brought to life by the aforementioned Hollywood heartthrobs. And despite said leading lads being at the height of their powers, it was little Kirsten who stole the show.

Even at a very young age, Dunst’s talent was palpable, and it came as no great surprise when some years later she bagged the role of Mary-Jane Watson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and went on to star in a range of other big Hollywood hitters. She shone in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, brought the house down in 2006’s Marie Antoinette, and much more recently she delivered nothing less than a career best alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons (now her hubby) in The Power of the Dog.

This week, Dunst is back in front of the camera with her beau in Alex Garland’s Civil War – the dystopian action yarn that has had all the tongues wagging. But does our Kirsten keep to form and deliver a knockout turn? Or is this one war she’s on the losing side of? Let’s take a look...

CIVIL WAR (UK 15/ROI 15A, 109 mins)

Released: April 12 (UK & Ireland)

Patriotism burns in the heat of conflict in writer-director Alex Garland’s incendiary action thriller set in a dystopian, near-future United States of America where the political landscape is no longer divided across Republican and Democratic lines.

California and Texas have seceded from the union to form the so-called Western Forces.

Nine states that make up the New People’s Army hold sway in the Pacific Northwest above a belt loyal to the president, which stands firm against Western Forces and a Florida Alliance comprising eight states that stretch eastwards from Oklahoma.

Garland began writing Civil War in 2020 before the acrimonious presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, which culminated in an attack on the Capitol by supporters loyal to the defeated Republican candidate.

Tension is palpable from the opening frames of this nightmarish road movie, which champions the vital role played by journalists on the front line.

After one particularly harrowing sequence, Cailee Spaeny’s inexperienced war photographer reflects that she has never felt more scared or more alive.

Her adrenaline rush translates from the screen to the audience in terrifying, breathlessly staged battle sequences.

“What kind of American are you?” one soldier (Jesse Plemons) asks a journalist, standing beside a mass grave of casualties who presumably gave an unsatisfactory response. Garland’s picture doesn’t flinch from depicting barbarity and Kirsten Dunst cuts a haunting, weary figure as the emotionally numbed war photographer in the eye of the storm.

Wide shots of highways littered with abandoned cars recall 28 Days Later but the monsters here aren’t the marauding undead, they are ordinary men and women on both sides, who feel empowered to protect the country they love with lethal force.

The President (Nick Offerman) orders air strikes on his own citizens to quell pockets of resistance to authoritarian rule.

Renowned war photojournalist Lee (Dunst) and journalist Joel (Wagner Moura) document the escalating conflict.

“It’s not a story if it never gets filed,” sombrely observes their mentor, veteran correspondent Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson), who believes lives are worth more than newspaper column inches.

When rumours circulate that Western Forces intend to storm the Capitol on July 4, Lee and Joel prepare for a circuitous 857-mile trek from New York to Washington DC via Virginia.

Sammy uses emotional blackmail to secure a place in the press vehicle alongside 23-year-old aspiring war photographer Jessie (Spaeny).

“The back seat is both a kindergarten and an old people’s home,” curtly observes Lee.

Civil War executes its bleak premise with cool detachment, despatching characters with ruthless precision.

Compelling performances from the central quartet complement razor-sharp writing. Garland allows sentimentality to flicker briefly in the heart of darkness, then promptly snuffs it out.

There is no time to mourn the fallen when bullets and mortars continue to fly.

BACK TO BLACK (UK 15/ROI 15A, 122 mins)

Released: April 12 (UK & Ireland)

Back To Black: Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse

Marisa Abela is Amy Winehouse in a biographical drama directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, which charts the singer’s turbulent life from the early 2000s.

Taking its title from the singer’s second studio album, Back To Black celebrates Winehouse’s glittering musical triumphs and recalls the personal struggles that repeatedly made her front page fodder for tabloid newspapers.

Screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh, who also wrote Nowhere Boy, explores the relationship between Amy, her parents Mitch (Eddie Marsan) and Janis (Juliet Cowan) and grandmother Cynthia (Lesley Manville).

A turbulent romance with Blake Fielder-Civil (Jack O’Connell) courts media attention as Amy works in the recording studio with producer Mark Ronson (Jeff Tunke) on her second LP, which includes Rehab, Love Is A Losing Game, You Know I’m No Good, and the title track.

BLEEDING LOVE (UK 15/ROI 15A, 102 mins)

Released: April 12 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Bleeding Love: Ewan McGregor as the father and Clara McGregor as the daughter

Ewan McGregor and real-life daughter Clara replicate the relationship on screen in Emma Westenberg’s feature film directorial debut from a script by Ruby Caster.

A nameless father abandoned his daughter from his first marriage to battle the demons of alcoholism and raise a new family.

His teenage daughter has inherited his addictive tendencies and, one night, her heart stops briefly following a drug overdose.

Determined to make amends, he drives her to rehab in his old pick-up truck.

As they traverse the beautiful terrain of the American Midwest, two generations confront a painful past and begin the necessary process of self-healing.

En route, father and daughter encounter eccentric characters facing their own crises.

UNSINKABLE (UK 12A/ROI PG, 100 mins)

Released: April 12 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Subtitled Titanic Untold, director Cody Hartman’s historical drama charts the aftermath of one of the most famous maritime disasters.

Shot in the film-maker’s native Pittsburgh from a script co-written by Cody and his father Brian, Unsinkable focuses on the US Senate hearings that followed Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage in 1912.

Senator William Alden Smith (Cotter Smith) and undercover journalist Alaine Ricard (Fiona Dourif) investigate events leading up to the tragedy to seek accountability for the White Star Line vessel in the North Atlantic. Flashbacks illustrate the plight of passengers on board the doomed ship, who only have a few minutes to escape in lifeboats.


Released: April 12 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

The Teachers' Lounge: Leonie Benesch as Carla Nowak

Nominated as Best International Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards, German writer-director Ilker Çatak’s drama explores clashing cultures in modern society through the eyes of a teacher.

Carla Nowak (Leonie Benesch) is a popular addition to her school, engaging Year 8 students so they are keen to learn mathematics with her guidance.

That bond is tested when one member of the class, a Turkish boy, is suspected of theft.

Unlike some of her colleagues, Carla is not convinced of the child’s guilt and she seeks the truth by taking matters into her own hands.

Noble intentions have calamitous consequences and Carla is caught in the crossfire of a bitter war of words between students, parents and outspoken educators.


Released: April 16 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Born in 1856 in Florence to American parents, John Singer Sargent was one of the most successful portrait artists of his era.

This documentary feature directed by David Bickerstaff invites curators, contemporary fashionistas and style influencers to comment on Sargent’s practice and his impact on contemporary culture.

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