Bad Cop. Worse Cop.
John Michael McDonagh
Detectives Terry Monroe [Skarsgård] and Bob Bolaño [Peña] patrol New Mexico with their own understanding of the law. Their actions are vicious, selfish, crass and thoroughly unacceptable but they get the job done. In their latest endeavour to both subvert and extort those involved in a high paying robbery, Bob and Terry get wrapped up in a level of crime above their usual street hoodlum association and as the individual running the scheme, James Mangan [James], is a respected diplomatically protected British Lord their usual methods aren’t going to work.
Ultimately, War On Everyone suffers from similar problems as Seven Psychopaths. For a little background, John Michael McDonagh and his brother Martin are both exceptionally talented playwrights and filmmakers. Martin followed up the absolutely amazing In Bruges with the rather flash, LA-based dark comedy Seven Psychopaths. But the finished film wasn’t really up to par. It was still razor sharp, hilarious in places and wonderfully acted but it lacked the simple narrative spark that made its predecessor feel so fresh and exciting, leaving a film with several standout scenes but a rather muddled and convoluted plot that dragged it down. Similarly, fresh off the independent success of The Guard and the stunningly superb Calvary, John Michael McDonagh has created a slick and highly stylised piece that doesn’t say nearly as much, lacking the depth and poignancy of the other two films. It’s almost as if these two thrive on simple, low budget pictures which keenly focus on personal tales and the second they try to get a message across in a release with some money behind it, it comes off as heavy handed and forced. The content is still vastly superior to other lazy releases mockingly dubbed comedies but when a parallel is drawn between this latest offering and his past achievements, it falters – which is often the double-edged sword of producing high calibre work.
Both the leads and the script are unabashedly antagonistic, taking potshots at every sensitive subject from gender to race to religion. At times one could argue the interactions are offensive simply for the sake of it but somehow the film earns a reasonable amount of grace for its audacity and the level of satirical wit utilised in its execution. Having said that, the sheer volume of absurdity is such that this film is very much a fantasy piece; even though you could easily have a change of tone with the same script and end up with a serious statement about abuse of police authority. Bob and Terry are ludicrousness personified, reliant upon various intoxicating substances and self-centeredly dismissive to the daily procedures and trivialities of their work. And yet they are anti-heroes, their motives are to make the world a better place (in their own jaded view) but do not believe in indiscriminate murder to enforce the law. It’s this complexity that elevates them above the very two dimensional beings that they would be in lesser hands – both in terms of writing and performance.
Speaking of performance, Peña and Skarsgård are a really great pairing; one the fast-talking, foul-mouthed, highly intelligent cop who has clearly worked his way up through a department rife with racism and incompetence, the other an alcoholic thug with very little substance in his life other than simply existing but gifted with a strong moral compass and zero tolerance for specific levels of criminality. The key to these individuals being interesting, maybe even enigmatic, is that they are high-functioning, disappointed and frustrated by the bureaucracy of their jobs and the limitations which ensure crime rates remain high. With such deviant, flippantly disrespectful individuals, creating a villain worse than them is quite tricky and relies on a grossly detestable character brought to life with some major acting chops; War On Everyone, regrettably does not have that. What we end up with is Lord Mangan played by Theo James. He’s highborn, wealthy and condescending (everything the average audience would arguably hate.. or envy) but just in case he doesn’t come across in a sufficiently unpleasant way, there are two things a scriptwriter can do to turn the audience against them: the mistreatment of children or animals. It’s a trope that guarantees aversion so much that it’s almost farcical. The choice here was to opt for mistreatment of children, specifically a kid in Terry’s care, which does the job of justifying the action taken against the villains. And this is the film’s greatest flaw. The world is a pretty shitty place, the film goes out of its way to tell us this, but it needs to have some sort of closure otherwise the story would be frustrating – like real life. So by the end of the film, we won’t be happy with an arrest (contemporary audiences never are), we want blood, vengeance, justice. And writing a story that resolves itself by simply making the problem go away is frankly dull, unimaginative and escapist nonsense.
From a technical standpoint everything runs smoothly and efficiently. The cinematography is reminiscent of 1970s buddy cop flicks, heavily emphasized by Lorne Balfe’s distinct score and several screenwipes. In fact, everything other than the actual setting is designed to pay homage to a genre long since passed, as if an attempt has been made to say, “Can you imagine what it’d be like if we had those cops like Dirty Harry working in today’s society with our levels of technology, political correctness and regulatory oversight?” I don’t think it necessarily decides whether this is a positive or negative, just highlights an amusing ‘what if’ scenario. Overall, War On Everyone is perfectly enjoyable (providing you like your comedy blacker than coal) but not nearly up to the standard of McDonagh’s previous work. Whether this was an active choice to make a more accessible release or not will only be seen with the quality of his next feature.
7th October 2016
The Scene To Look Out For:
Midway through the film changes up completely, taking the events out of New Mexico and over to Iceland. Bob and Terry turn up with little jurisdictional authority and immediately begin the search for their snitch who has absconded. Upon arrival, wearing their regular suits, both men are stood in the town centre, clearly freezing. At this point Terry asks what the plan is. Bob explains that as Reggie is black, he should be easy to spot. Before Terry can even finish writing off their idea as flawed, Bob calmly calls out “there he is” and we snap to a shot of a man in an afro and a purple suit amidst a sea of white faces. It’s as hilarious as it is ridiculous.
Tessa Thompson’s role as mother, lover and carer is a relatively interesting one but boils down to little more than a cul-de-sac. She’s a decent person who enjoys Terry’s company but there isn’t a lot to her character, she’s just an accessory in his sparsely decorated house. She exists there but doesn’t really further the plot or have much of an arc at all. Kudos to Thompson for elevating her above the bland oddity of a well-read ex-stripper.
In A Few Words:
“An acceptable comedy but pales when compared to McDonagh’s previous work”