John Michael McDonagh’s third film War on Everyone – on iTunes and VOD on February 3rd – isn’t quite as sharp as his previous features, but it’s still a fast-paced bit of lunatic fun.
The film follows two corrupt detectives out to frame and blackmail every crook they can – until they encounter someone who might be more dangerous than them.
Any movie that opens with two cops running down a mime and stealing his kilo of coke has to be considered not your average movie. That it comes from the director of The Guard and Calvary does seem somehow in character, but what follows is like those movies only in terms of strange and twisted characters and situations. McDonagh has amped up the pace and broadened his style for War on Everyone.
War on Everyone follows those two detectives, Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña, Ant-Man) and Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård, Legend of Tarzan), as they try to figure out when and where a bog time crime is to be committed – not so much to prevent it as to intercept it in progress and take the money themselves.
It doesn’t work out that way. Their major informant, Reggie X (Malcolm Barrett, Timeless), has a whole ‘nother agenda.
Besides, when the pair arrive at the home of one of the gang, they find him dead – murdered by his wife – and Terry finds himself taking in the couple’s son, Daniel (Zion Rain Leyba, Good Kill). Which puts him in an instant nuclear family – he’d previously taken in Jackie Hollis (Tessa Thompson, Creed) a woman who’d been a source until her boyfriend was killed and, well…
Bob, on the other hand, is a happily married guy with a lovely wife, Delores (Stephanie Sigman, Narcos), and two sons. The twist here being that Delores knows Bob’s a corrupt cop and loves him anyway.
The plot also involves an androgynous pederast (if his comments on a dance in the strip club he manages is the truth) named Russell Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones, X-Men: First Class), a British Lord, James Mangan (Theo James), and a host of henchmen.
Unlike his previous films, McDonagh cranks up the pace for this tale of crime and consequences. Stuff blows up; people get beaten to within an inch of their lives, and there is much gunplay – and let’s not forget the fate of that crime mime in the film’s opening moments.
None of the characters is really deeply explored, though Skarsgård’s hard drinking, violence prone Terry also shows a softer side through his relationships with Jackie and Daniel, and Bob has a habit of throwing out totally unrelated bits of trivia and totally knows what a Zen koan is.
War on Everyone has a few things in common with McDonagh’s previous films, though – its characters seem to be moving toward a set destiny; the dialogue is sharp and smart, and there are moments of real drama that cut through the film’s unique comic sensibility.
Essentially, War on Everyone is a satire of American crime/cop movies that works because it presents those genres’ tropes through the eyes of an outsider – making the film’s observations of those elements even more cutting than might otherwise be expected.
McDonagh works with a bright palette when slicing up specific tropes – the mime gets it on a bright sunny day when colors are ultra-vivid) – but the final, more dramatic confrontation is set in a warehouse which houses a sitting room set that brightly lit but filled with odd shadows everywhere except center stage).
Peña, Skarsgård, James and Barrett are all quite excellent in their roles, but Paul Reiser steals every scene he’s in as Bob & Terry’s not-quite-apoplectic boss, Lt. Stanton. His riffs on the stock character are hilarious.
The final result is a film that kicks a$$, takes names and feels just a hair off – like McDonagh is playing in someone else’s sandbox. War on Everyone doesn’t quite have same kind of heart found in Calvary or The Guard – though it’s certainly not without a certain amount.
It’s the difference between a great film and a very good one.
Final Grade: B+