Director: John Michael McDonagh
Writer: John Michael McDonagh
Verdict: Worth Your Time
So here’s the crunch for John Micheal McDonagh, after winning hearts and minds with indie hit black comedies Calvary and The Guard, he crosses the Atlantic to play with the big boys in this mash up of films like Pulp Fiction, Boogie Nights, and The Nice Guys. This film isn’t as good as any of them but it’s not at all bad, and it’s definitely worth your time.
Alexander Skarsgård, (True Blood, The Legend of Tarzan), and Michael Peña, (The Martian, Fury, End of Watch), play two corrupt cops with their own unique spin on justice delivery, but when they come against Britishly British villain Lord James Mangan, played by Theo James, (Divergent, Underworld: Awakening), they find themselves out of their depth.
The opening scene of the film shows the two of them chasing a mime down with a car in search of some coke. Peña turns to Skarsgård and asks “if you run over a mime does he make a sound”. A uniform policewoman sees them and says she’s going to call the police, they then show her their badges. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of this film, and it’s actually one of the funniest scenes in the film. The scene set is one of scabrous, black humour, with scabrous, bleakly portrayed characters that has served John Micheal and his brother Martin, (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) so well.
Now some people have gotten really angry at War on Everyone, calling it misogynist, racist, and homophobic, which I think is silly this is not a film you need to get angry at, there are films in this genre you can get angry at. Especially when this film is particularly aware of possible misogynist interpretations that could befall a film like it. The film sets itself in a world that is racist, misogynist, and homophobic and I feel actively works to counteract it. Even if it’s not enough compensation for you, when modern black comedies like Horrible Bosses and Pain & Gain are going in the other direction; in the case of Horrible Bosses doing absolutely nothing to hide it’s misogynistic undertones; and Pain & Gain the crass glorification and fetishisation of the male heroic image whilst making some jokes with a complete leering attitude; War On Everyone could easily be read as a subversive, post-modern satire of the genre. The film actually takes every opportunity to undercut it’s heros in the vein of something like Fight Club. Our most likeable character played by Peña constantly talks about philosophy, and whilst there’s clearly philosophical readings a plenty to be seen in the film, it makes it clear that Peña doesn’t think at all about the crap he’s spouting. It just sounds good. All of the characters who properly exploit women or minorities are shown to be pathetic. There are other clues that would support that reading but I’m not going to get into that right now, maybe I’ll write a blog special article in the future.
All that aside I guess the question remains, is War On Everyone funny? All other crimes the film may or may not have committed would probably be commutable to community service if it was funny. For me, the film is funny. This brand of confrontational humour and unpolished characters is something I like very much and seeing it in a big Hollywood production I also like very much. However, there are certain problems that come from it being in a big Hollywood production. The main one being that when our characters are complaining about the meaninglessness of life whilst it’s pissing it down on some remote Irish beach it works very well because the location reflects the mood of the piece. Putting it in New Mexico, it occasionally works when they go to an expansive desert horizon, but most of the time you just have to rely on the jokes in themselves, and they are occasionally funny, but it doesn’t have the same melancholic charm of his earlier work. This might be why his brother’s first big american production Seven Psychopaths felt so baggy despite a good joke here or there, (but I just think that was because it was big and baggy, this is a big American production and it’s really sparky, there’s a joke every other second until the last act).
I feel like it would work better if McDonagh changed his style a bit to match the dynamic change that comes with the location shift. In Cavalry his more slow, less choppy, immediate editing works with the mood that’s created by the misery of the Irish weather, (How can I be slagging off the Irish weather I live in Leeds), however here it really requires the directing to sell the joke better. This is exemplified when they all go to Europe at one point in the film, and it’s by far, the best act of the film, it’s what we were missing the rest of the time. When Quentin Tarantino took this brand of character and humour to the deep south in Django Unchained it really worked. Maybe it just requires someone who understands the landscape and how to properly use it.
This still doesn’t mean War On Everyone isn’t worth your time. The script is really good, really sparky, funny, and in your face in a way I rather enjoy. The performances are all quite on point. Skarsgård lends the character something of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, the whole hulking visage of melancholy that was really the driving force of that film. Peña is just a joy and rips off the screen every second he’s on it. James I feel plays his Britishness for laughs not entirely successfully but co-villain Caleb Landry Jones, (Antiviral, X-Men: First Class), is clearly having just the time of his life in a really memorable turn.
The fact is that despite it’s flaws, any film by either of the McDonagh brothers is worth your time. A good 3.5 star movie. See my last review for what that means. Maybe it’ll become a thing.