One of my all-time favourite films is Calvary, a dark black comedy about a priest in Ireland who is sent death threats by a particularly broken parishioner. The film was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, so when I heard about his new film, War On Everyone, I was pretty excited. Does it hold up with his other works?
War On Everyone stars Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James and Tessa Thompson and is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. The film follows Bob (Pena) and Terry (Skarsgård), a pair of corrupt cops who blackmail every criminal they come across. But one day they threaten the wrong criminal (James) and things turn sinister.
The opening scene of the film is Bob and Terry chasing a drug dealer dressed as a mime artist. Bob turns to Terry and asks “If you hit a mime does it make a sound?” before running him over with their car. That’s the sort of humour that War On Everyone has. It’s vulgar, callous and abrasive, but that’s its charm and had me nearly in stitches at places. All the characters are despicable, even the two leads who we are rooting for. Within the first couple of minutes you’ll know whether you’ll either enjoy the film or walk out due to disgust. The jokes ease up as we go through, replaced with dance numbers (set to an excellent endless playlist of Glen Campbell) and outrageous gun and fist fights bordering on slapstick, but they are always there in the film’s hip pocket if time comes for a punchy quip.
While the film is set in the modern day, it has an affinity with the look and sounds of the 1970s. Bob and Terry’s car is a classic, wheel-spinning, drifting muscle car, the collars are wide and the hair is bad, the aforementioned ever-present musical accompaniment of Campbell and the colour palette is garish, it all adds up to a film that has a great feel about it. It’s reminiscent of things like The French Connection and Dirty Harry, which is magnified by our heroes acting more like violent thugs than actual cops.
Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgård are great as the duo of slightly bad cops. Pena is a great screen presence and ever charismatic, whether it be having deep, introspective talks with his wife or throwing out one-liners completely deadpan. Skarsgård is doing his usual boring, brooding role, but it’s just so funny watching this tower of a man strut around in a sharp suit, dishing out his own odd brand of justice.
The problems though are two-fold. First off, while the script is bitingly funny, the story is non-existent. I managed to figure out it was something to do with bank robberies and the porn industry, but not much else. It’s hardly a plot, more just a succession of scenes. We have many parts dedicated to the main bad guy and his minions, but they are not as interesting our main duo and ultimately, a lot less funny. Every time the film would cut to them, I got a little bored, just waiting for the film to head back to Pena and Skarsgård. Secondly, even though the film is only 97 minutes, it feels incredibly long. Again, there are a few too many moments that aren’t as funny or compelling as others. I am really hoping for a sequel though. To see these characters again would be a blast, hopefully they can sort out a good story for next time.
In the end, War On Everyone is a great romping ride. While it’s comedy will turn off many potential viewers for being so on-the-nose and cutting, this one is definitely going to be a cult classic. I just wish that it held together a bit more.
Score: 7/10 Deplorable, irresponsible and offensive, but damn if it isn’t funny.