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[Joint Review] – ‘War on Everyone’

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 7 October 2016
 
Director: John Michael McDonagh
 
Writer: John Michael McDonagh
 
Cast: Michael Peña - Alexander Skarsgård - Tessa Thompson - Theo James
 


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Posted October 9, 2016 by

 
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Larry’s Perspective:

For his first American film – may there be many more – Irish writer and director John Michael McDonagh (‘The Guard’, ‘Calvary’) takes on the buddy cop drama and detonates it for out-and-out laughs. ‘War on Everyone’ is a blast, depicting the police force as a refuge for tortured or marginalised souls who get a kick – nay, an absolute high – out of shaking down bad guys or indeed (why discriminate?) anyone on the margins of criminality.

The plot is unimportant. Self-described ‘douche bag’ Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård, hot from ‘The Legend of Tarzan’, which transcended middling reviews thanks to his ‘v’ – look it up) and his partner, Bob Bolaño ‘the douche’ (Michael Peña) are two Albuquerque cops one misdemeanour away from being kicked off the force – where we have heard that before? They get wind of an impending heist on a race track, which in full ‘Reservoir Dogs’ style, we don’t see. In their attempt to bring a British villain (Theo James) to justice, they take on waifs and strays – well, one waif, one stray. Then the villain’s interest in them gets close to home.

No prizes for originality, you might t’ink. But the film scores with its irreverence and dialogue. ‘War on Everyone’ isn’t just cine-literate, it’s literature-literate, which references to Greek and Japanese writing. ‘Have you heard of Yukio Mishima?’ the Brit villain asks his captive at one point? ‘’Course not, you’re f-ing Irish!’ The film has an unexpected segue to a country that no American cop thriller has gone to before. McDonagh doesn’t just freshen up the ‘bad cop’ genre – he’s gives it the full spa treatment.

Just how bad are Monroe and Bolaño? In the opening, they chase a runaway mime in their police car. ‘If you hit a mime, will he make a sound?’ asks Monroe. Skarsgård is cast as a lean dumb lug, mostly seen with a beer bottle in his hand, which he tosses casually to one side (cue off-screen smash). Even when they know it is politically incorrect, they insult an African-American, but (in a twist) also share cocaine with him. Monroe feels no guilt about making out with the recent widow of a felon (Tessa Thompson). He is a mostly unstoppable force, hot-wired to ignore failure.

Bolaño is a family man with two overweight sons, more concerned with video games than healthy eating. Whilst they are playing, he tries to watch Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Out of Sight’ (the director is name-checked), the one in which ‘Jennifer Lopez takes her top off but you don’t see her’ etc.

How subversive can a cop comedy be if there are no great roles for women? This is McDonagh’s weak spot, his hamartia. In its defence, ‘War on Everyone’ doesn’t sexualise female nudity or romanticise its female characters – they tend to be caught in the crossfire. McDonagh doesn’t make them the nagging voice of unheeded reason either.

While no women are physically hurt on screen, Monroe does slug a transgender, taking her eye out with his signet ring. In McDonagh’s world, violence against women is only permitted if they were originally men. This part of the film is unsettling. It is like hitting Quakers – there is no challenge in it. That happens in the movie too!

At times, the editing simulates a 1970s movie, with frantic cross-cuts during action sequences, one particularly speeded up, and a retro brassy soundtrack; McDonagh doesn’t use guitars – he must be a no-strings kind of guy. Boom, tish! Points of reference include ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’ (1973) and ‘Freebie and the Bean (1974). McDonagh doesn’t deliver genuine surprise, but he takes the story to a logical conclusion. What would happen to a pair of cops who don’t follow procedure – redemption? No, surely not.

Written by:

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Larry Oliver
@LarryOliverFilm
Full Contributor

Jonathan’s Perspective:

The opening scene of John Michael McDonagh’s War on Everyone plays as a major league wish fulfillment for cops everywhere. Bob Bolano and Terry Monroe, the unorthodox heroes of McDonagh’s latest movie, are pursuing a fleeing suspect. The suspect is on foot. The cops, Bolano and Monroe, are in a car. Obviously, they will catch him. When he holds up his hands in a show of surrender, they consider their options ever so briefly, then plow right into him. Were the suspect in question among the persecuted minorities in 21st century America, such action might instantly cast our heroes as villains. But McDonagh, ever the subverter of norms, chooses perhaps the one remaining character type which ensures audience approval. The fleeing suspect is a mime.

In this way, McDonagh announces that War on Everyone will not be your run-of-the-mill crime story. And Bolano and Monroe will not be your typical cops.

The opening recalls McDonagh’s first directorial effort, 2011’s wickedly funny and dark The Guard, in which another hero cop casually observes three drunken hooligans speed recklessly toward a violent car crash which ends in their ugly deaths. We will come to learn that the cop in that movie, Gerry Boyle, just like the Bolano and Monroe, isn’t exactly disinterested in doing his job. The interests of all three men just lie in different places.

If The Guard, and McDonagh’s subsequent Calvary, had a moral code in place, War on Everyone, as the name suggests, can’t really be bothered with such things. There is a conversion of sorts at the climax, in which Monroe appears to serve a higher purpose, but it’s hard to buy into it. Throughout the entire movie, Bolano and Monroe have been primarily concerned with one thing. Enriching Bolano and Monroe. The fact that deep down, both are decent enough to direct their violence at criminals and not at law abiding citizens makes them more likeable, but these are not exactly role models. And that is what makes them so eminently watchable.

War on Everyone does not even flirt with exploring the deep issues of faith which permeate Calvary. And though Monroe’s drunken loner recalls the sad loneliness of Gerry Boyle in The Guard, it never feels quite as brooding. If the openings of McDonagh’s two cop movies are similar, the denouements paint with very different brushes. Whereas The Guard relies on open-ended mystery, War on Everyone offers a much simpler resolution, with no mystery in sight.

And so War on Everyone plays like what it is. A satire. It is easy to see it as a final word on the ‘90s buddy cop genre that has been beaten into mush by so many pale imitators. This is a post-modern Lethal Weapon, perhaps with a dash of Dragnet deadpan sprinkled in, and, of course, black Irish humor galore. Oh, and a genuine hatred of the English, something it also shares with The Guard.

The plot doesn’t quite reach Guy Ritchie level, but it is suitably convoluted, with dead bodies piling up and hints of various criminal activities coming from all directions. Bolano and Monroe pursue their investigation, more interested in enriching themselves than in solving the crimes. Bolano, in the Murtaugh role, is somewhat more grounded, with his wife and kids. But his moral compass only extends so far. After all, he has to keep his pretty wife’s swimming pool filled and put food on the table for his obese sons. Monroe, filling the Riggs part, is among the saddest action heroes you are apt to find. Unlike Riggs, he is utterly dependent on his partner for basic survival. With his hulking, stoop-shouldered presence, he is Lenny to Bolano’s George, utterly trusting. Well, a Lenny who lives his life according to Glen Campbell ballads.

It is easy to read into Terry’s past as a victim of abuse and that makes the second half turn work better than it has a right to. That is one of McDonagh’s great skills – to suggest without being explicit. Still, the plotline that develops in the second half does stretch the plot almost to the breaking point. And yet, it manages.

McDonagh populates his story with a calliope of oddities and eccentrics, just as he has in his two previous movies. David Wimot, the one holdover from The Guard, gets to play a wild-eyed Irish patriot, and Caleb Landry Jones creates what is sure to be one of the creepiest villains of the year as a vaguely androgynous sadist. Paul Reiser even shows up for a spin as Bolano and Monroe’s frustrated, friendly boss. As the amoral Englishman behind it all, Theo James is not quite as memorable as Mark Strong’s sensational philosophical drug runner in The Guard, but he will suffice.

At its core Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard shine as Bolano and Monroe. They handle the deadpan humor, the unvarnished macho bravado, the action. Skarsgard, as the troubled, lonely Monroe, has more to do and he nails it. It is easy to overlook the fine work from Pena given that he is the less volatile presence. The chemistry is first rate.

McDonagh, the older half of the best Irish playwrighting-screenwriting brothers we’ve got going, has made three movies now. In all of them, stoic characters walk into grave danger at the climax without blinking an eye. They do it based on a code that is unique to each. None fit the standard hero template, which is exactly what makes McDonagh worth watching. Younger brother Martin (of In Bruges fame) is due out with his 3rd feature later this year. It boasts an all-star cast and a dark comic crime-based plotline. Maybe some day, we’ll see a story about the McDonagh brothers themselves. I would certainly buy a ticket for that.

Written by:

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Jonathan Eig
@rockynrudy
Huffington Post
CurnBlog
Full Contributor

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