Published on February 6th, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls0
War on Everyone
After The Guard and Calvary, we expected big things for War on Everyone, the latest from John Michael McDonagh. Did it deliver? Not so much.
Writer-director John Michael McDonagh has made a name for himself as an incendiary composer of violent, un-PC fare. His two previous features, 2011’s The Guard and 2014’s sublime Calvary, mixed gallows humor with surprising insight. McDonagh doesn’t seem to celebrate our worst tendencies so much as he accepts certain dark truths and shines a light on them. He uses them as a tool to make a broader statement, and that might seem obscene to some but it takes a certainly level of genius to balance depravity and wit properly.
McDonagh’s latest film War on Everyone is perhaps his most audacious and bawdy but it’s also his least focused or tightly-dialed effort to date. Scenes don’t exactly lead into the next so much as they just happen to be placed side-by-side each other. The plot is barebones yet the film is slavish to its smallest details. That the structure and production are middling at best is a supreme disappointment, because McDonagh once again aces his dialogue and the direction of his actors.
Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard star as Bob and Terry, two Albuquerque police officers with reputations for bribery, corruption, and unnecessary force. But they aren’t bad guys! They’re kept on this side of redeemable because when the chips are down their morality is relatively straight. They’re funny, endearing as a pair, and they just want to see their pockets get full instead of watching illicit funds flow into the bank accounts of scumbag drug dealers. In the scheme of things, they’re not that bad. Hell, in the real world they’re probably on the upper end of moral police officers.
Bob and Terry make for a watchable dynamic duo – their relationship feels genuine and the actors portraying them play off each other very well. But they don’t live up to their full potential and are hampered by a script and direction that both lack energy. The boys get into some rank shit and it’s pretty fun to watch them curse their way out of tight spots, but they could’ve blown the roof off the joint had the film let them be openly and gleefully offensive. There’s a moment when Bob and Terry use innocent bystanders as human shields while hurling insults at their antagonist and his bullets – pieces like this are War on Everyone at its best and most explosively entertaining.
Instead, the duo runs across word of a horse track heist that could net the perpetrators a cool one million dollars. The cash registers ring in our heroes’ eyes and they’ve got a new focus in life: let the bad guys do the dirt then take their money from them. Better that cash land up with a couple not-that-bad jerks instead of some straight-up vile criminals, right?
In the course of their plan they blackmail and befriend an informant named Reggie (Malcolm Barrett, a true delight) and run afoul of a perverted Englishman (Theo James) and his strange little accomplice (Caleb Landry Jones). Terry finds new love in Jackie (Tessa Thompson) and Bob begins to warm up to his role as a family man. These are all well and good, and even a detour to Iceland is an entertaining enough trip. But the strength of the individual pieces don’t quite gel within the larger framework of an underserved script and a slightly slapdash final edit.
The barren Wild West of VOD means that it’s unlikely War on Everyone will snare many unsuspecting viewers. And even though the film isn’t great it’s still worthy of a watch if only for the performances of Pena and Skarsgard, who truly do knock it out of the park. These two are talented and tailor-made for swearing and insulting side-by-side each other. There are legitimate laugh out loud moments in War on Everyone, and there are parts where it feels like time has ground to a halt. In this mixed bag of vulgarity and bloodshed, however, the deviant fun just ever so slightly wins the majority.
War on Everyone is now available on VOD and streaming services.