Film Review: War on Everyone

Director: John Michael McDonagh

15 | 1h 38min | Comedy | 7 October 2016 (UK)

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Writer-director John Michael McDonagh (Calvary, The Guard) returns with another jet-black comedy focused on misanthropic guys doing misanthropic things. Alexander Skarsgård (Tarzan, True Blood) and Michael Peña (End of Watch, Ant-Man) are corrupt cops Terry Monroe (Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Peña) who both work the Albuquerque-New Mexico beat. McDonagh is on safe ground here, having explored mismatched cop dynamics in The Guard, and the New Mexico setting with added police corruption on top seems tailor-made to appeal to fans of Breaking Bad. But being offered a bigger canvas to work on compared to his earlier, more compact films that were set on his home turf of Ireland, seems not to have quite paid off. 

Yes, there are sick chuckles to be had watching Terry and Bob fall utterly to uphold the law. We are first introduced to them as, over a blazing hip hop track, they run down a drug-carrying mime in Terry’s retro cadillac, Terry’s reason for doing so being ;“I always wanted to know what running over a mime would look like”. In case you are unfamiliar with the kind of particular, sardonic humour of McDonagh, this is it. Terry and Bob are the kinds of cops who have a stack of assault investigations on their career records, regularly extort information from grasses by outright threatening to plant cocaine on them (and them promptly snorting the cocaine with said informant), and are always one fuck up away from losing their badges.

But there is too much dead air in this film, too many gags that just don't land, and too much of a sense of drift. The main plot spine: a haphazard investigation into a crime ring run by debauched Brit James Mangan (Theo James, in a boring mustache-twirling villain template) which ropes inMangan’s bizarre, flamboyant right-hand man and strip-club owner Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones, with an accent so thick you could cut bread with it), and former stripper Jackie (Tessa Thompson) fails to either make much sense or offer up much tension or mystery, especially as Terry and Bob never seem to be in any danger or show any urgency. Skarsgård and Peña have charisma and swagger to spare, and do have some genuinely funny scenes and “WTF” moments, but their characters don’t really grow in any way and there is no interesting conflict between them, given they both know each other and are both at the same level of experience. Too many beats in this film feel randomly thrown in, the worst example being when Bob and Terry end up having to travel to Iceland to track down their double-crossing informant Reggie, who fesses up when caught (and beaten up suitably) that he fled to Iceland for no reason at all. That total randomness sadly seems to symbolise the ethos behind the entire film’s construction.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.