UK Release Date: 7th October 2016
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Writer: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Peña, Tessa Thompson, Theo James, Paul Reiser, Caleb Landry Jones
Synopsis: Two very immoral, very bad cops, who are no strangers to blackmail and corruption, end up in the midst of a more dangerous situation than usual when they cross the wrong criminal.
The McDonagh brothers very quickly established themselves as major voices in the world of cinema with movies like In Bruges, The Guard and Calvary. The older of the two brothers, John Michael McDonagh, has ventured Stateside for his latest movie and is taking on the buddy cop genre with War on Everyone – a film that pulls no punches in its depiction of two seriously bad cops. By the end, though, it feels as if it’s trying a little too hard to push boundaries that were never really there.
Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Peña) are two corrupt cops on a final warning from their chief (Paul Reiser), who has commanded them to keep their noses clean or risk losing their jobs. This doesn’t prevent them from diving headlong into the criminal underworld before getting in way over their heads with terrifying British criminal James Mangan (Theo James). Meanwhile, the emotionally isolated Terry forms a relationship with Jackie (Tessa Thompson), which leads him to question whether doing the wrong thing is necessarily right for him.
War on Everyone works really hard to offend as many people as it possibly can. No one is safe from the barbed dialogue of McDonagh’s script and there are gags at the expense of just about everybody during the course of the two hours. It comes across, though, as trying just a little too hard to have edge. Compared to the spiky wit of his own The Guard and his brother’s wonderfully dark In Bruges, this is like one of those student comedy nights where everyone does gags about anal sex and uses the C-word a lot. Equally, it often feels like it has something of a yellow streak – leaving bizarre setups hanging in the air so that the audience can drop in their own awful punchline rather than having the fortitude to make the gag itself.
There is an admirable comic chemistry between Skarsgård and Pena, who are talented performers playing roles that they clearly enjoy inhabiting. Skarsgård, especially, is a great physical presence and struggles valiantly to bring some sort of complexity to the character. All he gets from the script in terms of this is a love of Glen Campbell which, although filling the soundtrack with brilliant country tracks, doesn’t exactly deepen him enough to make his relationship with Creed star Tessa Thompson believable. Theo James, meanwhile, is simply British and evil. Nothing more than that.
It’s the nastiness of its storytelling and its world that ultimately holds War on Everyone back. It’s an utterly unpleasant viewing experience, rather than the spiky, joyous macabre of the McDonagh brothers’ other work. In particular, a final plot twist causes the film to descend into very real evils for which it does not have the stomach, solely to set up a climactic clash between “hero” and villain. It’s a touch of misanthropy that proves to be utterly tone deaf.
There are laughs aplenty in War on Everyone, but they’re very quickly covered over by misguided jibes at various groups or long narrative languors in which very little seems to happen. For every genuinely amusing non-sequitur, there’s a punching-down jab that feels entirely unearned by the characters. These are privileged people using their privilege to exploit and abuse – and this film tries to put us entirely on their side. War on Everyone is a fitting title for a film that feels less like coherent cinema than it does a random yell into the dark.
Pop or Poop?
John Michael McDonagh has dropped his first major clanger with War on Everyone which, although showing occasional flashes of the auteur’s brilliance, regularly seems content to wallow in filth. The performances are solid, but entirely wasted by a script that finds it easier to grope for the cheap laugh than provide character depth.
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