War on Everyone
Studio: Saban Films
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Feb 13, 2017
In many ways, War on Everyone feels like a step back for Irish writer/director John Michael McDonagh. His American debut and first feature film without star Brendan Gleeson – following The Guard and Calvary – finds him aping In Bruges, the modern classic directed by his brother, Martin McDonagh. Rather than centering on hitmen waxing philosophical in Bruges, War on Everyone is the story of Bob and Terry, two police detectives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While they occasionally wax philosophical, Bob and Terry spend most of their time abusing their power in the pursuit of drugs, bribes and casual violence. When a racetrack robbery leads to a series of homicides, the pair find themselves forced to get their shit together in a vain attempt to do some good in the world.
As the premise indicates, the biggest problem with War on Everyone is its timing. It seems unlikely that, in an America ravaged by police shootings and generally teetering on the edge of authoritarian dystopia, audiences will be endeared to a pair of gleefully corrupt cops who resort to violence for kicks. McDonagh is no stranger to black comedies addressing charged subject matter, but here he seems apathetic about the issues raised by police brutality and uses it solely as a vehicle for cheap jokes. Between its tastelessness – which also extends to Caleb Landry Jones giving a bizarre, lisping, Heath-Ledger-as-the-Joker-inspired performance as the main henchman – and the endless Dutch angles and wipe cuts, the film seems primed to inspire derision and disgust in its audience. A more seriously-minded film might argue that that’s the point, but if that’s the case, it mostly misses the mark.
Which is a real shame because War on Everyone features one of the best comedic parings in recent memory. That Michael Peña is one half of that pairing should come as no surprise. His Bob is a deadpan motor mouth, the kind of guy who seems like he spends all of his down time reading Wikipedia and snorting cocaine. His machine gun delivery and informative non-sequiturs play nicely off Alexander Skarsgard, whose performance as Terry – a hunched, leering, perpetually drunk dipshit – is a surprising turn for an actor mostly known for his smoldering good looks. McDonagh is able to garner laughs by simply pairing them in a shot together – Peña is 5’7’’, Skarsgard is 6’4” – and the film is at its best when the pair are burning through his colorful (if still noticeably European) dialogue or just indulging its own absurdity rather than groping at social relevance. The two leads are the films’ saving grace, ensuring that Bob and Terry feel less like men actively out to do bad, and more like children with no real inkling that they ought to do good. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Author rating: 4.5/10
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