REVIEW: War on Everyone

October 13, 2016

Director: John Michael McDonagh
Screenplay: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Peña, Tessa Thompson, Caleb Landry Jones, Theo James
Runtime: 97 Minutes

 

★★★☆☆

 

The McDonagh Brother’s comedy chops rely on their inherent ability to offend without apology. There’s also their incredible qualities regarding direction, character and sly twists of conventional genre narratives, but first and foremost they want to tickle the funny bone with comedy as black as treacle. Despite transferring his styling’s overseas after his masterwork Calvery, John Michael McDonagh’s ambitions haven’t shifted.

 

War on Everyone has a hard gig to follow considering this year’s other spectacular buddy comedy The Nice Guys. But what this has going for it is the aptitude to go for broke with the conceit of its very title; Fuck Everyone. Nobody is perfect, so nobody should be treated as such.

 

Detectives Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) are bad cops. They know it, their families know it, their friends know it, and nobody really cares. This is the kind of filtered sense of understanding that has to be passed through in order to appreciate its content. Watching these two professionals in a position of power exploiting the system for all its worth while the whole time assured in their own sense of badass stature.

 

The film assumes that this is enough, and – to an extent – it really is. Much of the dizzying joy derives from the duo setting off to “fuck some scumbags”, and their wonderfully blunt methods of doing so. From threatening to frame and corner suspects, to driving a car through the front doors of a strip club, these guys know no boundaries and it's gleefully satisfying to see them throw their weight around while trying to get their plans into motion.

 

As such, the film isn’t afraid to go into rocky territory regarding its characters views of the world. Bolaño routinely berates his kids with a filthy mouth, while Monroe consistently manages to one-up his own insults at informant Malcolm Barrett’s Muslim background. But it’s never with cynicism or with intent to harm, as such it’s hardly as offensive as even The Guard, but has an understanding that anything is game so long as the audience is willing to go along with it.

 

The kind of table flip that it does to the buddy cop subgenre isn’t an unseen phenomenon, but it’s the observational traits that invade the drama that make things a little more twisted. Upon entering the house of a domestic murder, the two stand dumbstruck over the recently widowed women, calmly asking her to stop her grating screams of horror. There’s also an inspired little detour to Iceland in which might be one of the funniest reveals in the film. There isn’t an ounce of paperwork to be found in the film, for it would only lessen the fantastic pace that the film moves at.

 

The performances from both suit the oddball roles just as well. Peña has been pulling this same shtick for years, and he’s just as excellent here – although actually playing the straight man to Skarsgård’s infinitely blunter headed swaggering thug. Skarsgård shows unprecedented comedy styling’s here as he lumbers through scenes like a lost beast and a penchant for one punch takedowns and Glen Campbell songs.

 

The plot’s villains operate around the fringes of the carnage but leave an impact. Theo James is actually rather delightful – shockingly more polite than either of the officers – even without any apparent greater designs beyond dealing with the issue of them tailing him. While Caleb Landry Jones’ bizarre Birdwell manages to linger in the mind for reasons that can’t be explained beyond the bewildering manner in which Jones chooses to play him – think Crispin Glover in Charlie’s Angels and you’re on the right track.

 

Yet given all this substance snorting, face breaking and intentionally irrational property damage, there is a heart in here to be found. The bromance is strong, but it serves to place a contrast between Bolaño’s unconventional but happy family life, and Monroe’s complete lack of inner social life beyond the job that consumes his time when not glugging alcohol. His efforts later in the film to form his own nuclear family of the wonderful Tessa Thompson and a young boy are nice touches to try and rectify this hollowness.

 

There are inevitable downsides given its flippant energy though. It feels as though there’s more depth to be mined from the background of these characters that simply isn’t there, or is alluded to but never explored in detail. Also, as the film goes into the final movement there’s a clear sense of things reaching an emotional climax where it doesn’t feel entirely warranted given its general lack of build up. Being suddenly asked to care about the situation in the 11th hour feels a little detaching considering all that has come before.

 

Undoubtedly people are going to find offence here one way or another, so those with a disposition of being easily upset regardless of context are not going to have as good a ride as others. Those familiar with McDonagh’s scabrous dialogues should feel right at home though - even given its change of location.

 

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