Directed and written by: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård. Michael Peña. Theo James. Tessa Thompson. Caleb Landry Jones.
Running time: 97 mins
John and Marting McDanagh have given us some great cinematic gifts. Great, bleak and infinitely twisted gifts, but gifts all the same. Between the brothers they have written and directed In Bruges, Seven Psycopaths, The Guard and Calvary, the latter two coming from John who now presents us with War On Everyone. And if you were hoping for something a bit lighter and easier on the eyes and soul, then you will be wonderfully let down in the best possible way. This unapologetic, irreverent romp through New Mexico makes Walter White seem like a Disney redemption story. We follow woefully corrupt cops Terry Monroe (Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Peña) as they shamelessly wallow in their murky pool of deceit and gleeful sin. Disepnsing their own lucrative and painful flavour of justice they soon come into contact with ‘Lord’ James Mangan (James) and a circle of crime that causes even their moral compasses to wake up and spin again.
This is of course a dark comedy and by dark i mean they might as well have filmed the milk tray man, listening to ‘Fade To Black‘, during an eclipse. It’s pretty damn dark indeed. The humour is as hit and miss as a coke-fuelled boxer with vertigo, but when it hits you will go down laughing. The script is punchy much like our heroes themselves and without being unrealistically clever or Noire-like where every line is a piece of poetry. Skarsgård and Peña have more chemistry than a failed classroom science experiment, and most Hollywood romances. They are constantly a double act of wit, violence and intimidation with whoever they come into contact with. Their friendship is convincing and scenes of their home life aren’t always funny and can seem to have as much of a point as a broken pencil, but it builds up their bond and pays dividends in later scenes. Skarsgård sears his way through the camera, lurching around with hunched shoulders and flinging out words with his deliberately dull voice, yet his intensity and passion somehow shines through as he becomes easy to get behind and support. Peña waffles, quips and abuses but shows affection to family and loyalty to friends. This is all gradual as they keep the balance of being likeable yet disgusting anti-heroes. The layers peel away to show corrupt, toxic, complex characters trying to find the right things in the wrongest of wrong places.
Support characters are strong, Theo James was the one person in the Divergent series who seemed to get the memo that acting was in fact encouraged and worked his little heroic socks off to save that franchise. I remember thinking not only was he the only Divergent who wasn’t need of a good strangling, but that he deserved a solid opportunity and grabs this one with two hands….opps, back onto strangling again! In early scenes he seems nonthreatening, confusing and unsteady but as he develops momentum he preens and creeps through the plot and wraps his way around the narrative like an anaconda squeezing gradually until he is in control. He has power and uses it as a villain would do instead of Bon villain types who refuse to act with the flimsy excuse of sadism. Here Mangan is not afraid to utilise lawyers and dispense annoyances quickly while hinting at darker pleasures behind closed and blood stained doors. He is also entertaining and genuinely funny, feeding someone grapes for example has never been so chillingly amusing.
Tessa Thompson who was much lauded in Creed is the love interest as Jackie Hollis, she’s ridiculously intense, charismatic as the smoky and mysterious side character. The romance angle gets plenty of time but it’s a shame she wasn’t more of a character in her own right and ends up quickly domesticated into a babysitter or someone to cry at things, a ‘worry at home wife’. She had the chops for her own involvement in the plot but isn’t given much chance, also it gets awkward when she’s still parading around in hot pants and seductively eating ice cream when there’s only a pre-pubescent boy sat around. Any older and he’d probably combust from puberty-stoked confusion! Malcom Barrett as Reggie and David Wilom as Paidraic Power are fantastic as unwilling C.I’s and are more than just plot points, both getting more than their share of laughs. Stephanie Sigman is assertive and supportive as enduring wife Delores and Xmen’s Caleb Landry Jones is sickeningly brilliant as the stomach churning Birdwell. He makes the most of every second on screen to chill your veins and bolster your support for the heroes, just for them both having the decency to not be Birdwell. He is tweaked and creepy without ever trying to be Heath Ledger or Jonny Depp like so many often do.
The feeling of the film is much more overtly surreal than John’s last two outings with the funky and exciting soundtrack and camera shots sometimes veering into trippy and artistic. This is fine and appealing but can affect the mood and dull the pace when you are desperate to see the antics of our two alleged heroes. These scenes will make sure this film isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and i spent equal amounts of time enjoying the film and worrying my girlfriend next to me wasn’t, it’s an odd shade of movie to predict an audience too. There are more than enough hilarious moments, successful lines, impacting action and iconic scenes though to ensure any drops in pace don’t lose or alienate too many people. One couple walked out in the showing i saw and i wanted to beg them to bear with it, you have to dig to get to gold and this film is worth the investment of time. Trips to Iceland, over the top characters and convenient plot developments make this more than one helping of ridiculous, but it’s far too much fun to be even close to irritating.
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you do like this brand of brew then tip your head back and drink it in because it’s bold, vibrant and most of all fun. Other films such as Rampart and the Bad Lieutenant remake took a wild flimsy stab at ‘likable’ Police corruption but none struck as true as this outing. War On Everyone is not for everyone but it puts too complicated and highly flawed anti-heroes on an entertaining adventure you want them to win and keeps you engaged. A hefty tick in the victory column from.
The Verdict: Much like Monroe and Bolaño this movie is imperfect but sweepingly endearing. A stylised yet brash assault of the buddy cop adventure that does not bend to your expectations but demands you follow the trail. I hope you do, because it’s one heck of a trip.