Skip to main content

Oh, shit! Hey, we are the cops!

War on Everyone
(2016)

(SPOILERS) John Michael McDonagh’s latest is all over the place, in much the same way his younger brother’s Seven Psychopaths was all over the place, only less coherently and satisfyingly in the end result. Which isn’t to say War on Everyone isn’t, for the most part, hugely enjoyable, in a gleefully provocative, disgracefully inappropriate and unruly manner, but that the most propitious milieu for the McDonaghs may not be Stateside, where the impulse to move towards – for want of a better word – Tarantino-esque crime storytelling may ultimately detract from all the other elements fighting for air.


It also bears noting that dabbling in more traditional crime movie territory (albeit, as he repeats several times on the commentary, to madcap or surrealist effect) exposes McDonagh’s limitations as a director, and perhaps as a screenwriter trying to bite off more than he can chew (although, don’t impugn the latter to him directly, or he’ll start asking you to prove you can do better). War on Everyone frequently comes across as almost recklessly undisciplined, so loosely threading its string of characters and targets that one begins to assume its intentional. After all, both The Guard (easily McDonagh’s best) and Calvary (his most thematically rich, but also ultimately slightly disappointing as a result) clearly knew exactly what they wanted to say, what story they wanted to tell, and how they wanted to tell it.


There’s never such a sure sense of grip and purpose here. Indeed, the subplot concerning child abuse comes across as unfortunately glib, a misjudgement given the director has previously tackled the subject with due weight; it feels tacked on for the sake of giving our heroes’ a just cause (Skarsgård’s character’s history in this regard is also too oblique to really offer substance or weight, and a scene in which the villain reads Alice Through the Looking Glass to his bikini-clad daughters gives off a similar air of ill-advised frivolity). Indeed, the showdown brought to mind the first part of Red Riding Trilogy, but not in any kind of tonally recognisable sense.


Of course, the slipshod approach is in partly announced by the all-comers title. War on Everyone is much better as an idea for a movie than a banner, lacking the bite to accompany its misanthropic invitation. Bad Santa did something similar, but War on Everyone is woolly, one-part politically spun but too broad in remit to actually mean anything much in the end analysis. Albuquerque detectives Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) are the least positive examples of law enforcement imaginable (McDonagh litters the story with references to injustices, from The Algiers Motel Incident to the “contentious issue” of whether some SWAT guys had a good or bad shoot), always looking to grift the hoodlums and displaying a wanton disregard for due process or anything approximating upholding the principles of the job.


Terry: You’re a dyslexic, and you’ve got multiple sclerosis?
Power: Yeah, I’ve had a lot of hard luck in my life.

McDonagh takes unbridled relish in his characters saying and doing what they shouldn’t, from Terry and Bob’s lieutenant Paul Reiser down (“I’m married to a Chink myself” he says, professing sympathy over the racist abuse Bob has suffered from colleagues), the concept of political correctness being a quaint hood ornament. And the targets range from the surreal (“I always wondered, if you hit a mime, does he makes a sound?”), to the entirely insensitive (“It used to be called stupidity” Bob replies, when David Wilmot’s Pádraic Power protests that he is dyslexic, the first of a series of ridiculous disabilities with which he claims to be afflicted). Bob is no less dismissive of his kids, making particular time to deal out insults to his obese eldest son.


Bob: He would have tried to kill them, if he had the chance, Quaker or not.

The level of absurdity is sufficiently heightened that there are times this could easily switch places with a Will Ferrell-style comedy. Entering the house of a woman who has just stabbed her husband to death (he was a key player in their latest scam), the duo casually munch burgers at the crime scene as she wails unceasingly (“Can we play a little game of shut the fuck up?” asks the unsympathetic Bob). Terry becomes frustrated over losing at tennis to a pair of burka-clad opponents and does a tremendous pterodactyl impression as he threatens a toupee’d, pint-sized jockey. McDonagh even flirts with self-immolation in a conversation on quality porn movies (“It starts and ends with the script. If you ain’t got a good script, you ain’t got shit”).


A shootout in a mall finds the boys using a waiter and a guy on a mobility scooter as human shields while a mariachi band plays on, oblivious. Tracking down their ill-gotten gains leads them to Iceland, where they are confident of finding Reggie (Malcolm Barrett) quickly (“How many fucking black people do you think there are in Iceland?”); right on cue, they spot him. Reggie is shacked up with a transgender partner, leading to a blithely indiscreet conversation regarding the former’s sexual orientation (“Straight, huh? With an asterisk?”) A kid begging outside a supermarket is confronted over the bad spelling of his “homles” sign (“Bad presentation, it’s why you’re broke”) and, on discovering he is the son of the stabbed man who took flight, they debate what to do with him (“Social Services? We may as well sell him to the fucking Philippines”).


McDonagh, being a very literate fellow (a playwright, no less), naturally also takes in art and philosophy, mainly via Bob’s well-read wife (Stephanie Sigman), and Terry's girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) – who comments "Was that actually murder, philosophically speaking?" of her father, who committed suicide-murder when he killed another man after the bullet passed through his brain, taking out another man sitting next to him – but throws in off-the-cuff lines throughout (“He wrote a well-regarded monogram on André Breton. And he had a nice dick”; “But then again, Pythagoras believed that, after you’re dead, your soul goes into a fucking green bean”).


The cast acquit themselves with honours; Pena is the business in everything, a ball of irrepressible, mischievous energy, while Skarsgård, all stooped, ape shoulders and deader-than-deadpan, somewhat atones for The Legend of Tarzan (he replaced Garrett Hedlund and was cast after McDonagh saw footage of him drunk at a football game), although he isn’t naturally the most sympathetic of actors.


Theo James, as villain Lord James Mangan gives off the vibe of a low-rent Rupert Everett, just without the charm or charisma, while whatever Caleb Landry Jones is doing as his enervated henchman Russell Birdwell, I’m not quite sure, but it’s entirely scene-stealing (I see he’s appearing in the other McDonagh’s next). Barrett wears a suitably beleaguered face throughout, at the confounding behaviour of his unwanted cop associates, while Paul Reiser scores as their ineffectual superior. David Wilmot has appeared in all three McDonagh movies, and he’s on particularly chucklesome form with his running gag of debilitating conditions (“I’m an only child”). He even provides laughs in death (“I thought you were going to keep it as a souvenir or something” Bob comments, when Terry retrieves his head to give it a proper burial).


War on Everyone’s such an avalanche of quotable lines and hilarious vignettes, it seems grouchy to suggest it doesn’t hang together terribly well. McDonagh might argue the scattershot aesthetic is intentional, but another director might have been able to give this more form and rhythm (the sadly-departed Tony Scott, in True Romance mode, springs to mind). He throws in plenty of Dutch angles and is a veritable hive of information about shots he has quoted from other movies, but he hasn’t fashioning them into stylistically cohesive whole. Most movies have a discernible trajectory, whereas War on Everyone ricochets to its destination without any clear intent, pace or plan. It’s immensely likeable in its unreconstituted, dyspeptic levity, but it’s also an unmanageable sprawl.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers 4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters
I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.

Romulan ale should be illegal.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
(SPOILERS) Out of the ST:NG movies, Star Trek: Nemesis seems to provoke the most outrage among fans, the reasons mostly appearing to boil down to continuity and character work. In the case of the former, while I can appreciate the beef, I’m not enough of an aficionado to get too worked up. In the case of the latter, well, the less of the strained inter-relationships between this bunch that make it to the screen, the better (director Stuart Baird reportedly cut more than fifty minutes from the picture, most of it relating to underscoring the crew, leading to a quip by Stewart that while an Actor’s Cut would include the excised footage, a Director’s one would probably be even shorter). Even being largely unswayed by such concerns, though, Nemesis isn’t very good. It wants to hit the same kind of dramatic high notes as The Wrath of Khan (naturally, it’s always bloody Khan) but repeatedly drifts into an out-of-tune dirge.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

Cally. Help us, Cally. Help Auron.

Blake's 7 3.7: Children of Auron

Roger Parkes goes a considerable way towards redeeming himself for the slop that was Voice from the Past with his second script for the series, and newcomer Andrew Morgan shows promise as a director that never really fulfilled itself in his work on Doctor Who (but was evident in Knights of God, the 1987 TV series featuring Gareth Thomas).

I think we’ve returned to Eden. Surely this is how the World once was in the beginning of time.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
Ridley Scott’s first historical epic (The Duellists was his first historical, and his first feature, but hardly an epic) is also one of his least remembered films. It bombed at the box office (as did the year’s other attempted cash-ins on the discovery of America, including Superman: The Movie producers the Salkinds’ Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) and met with a less than rapturous response from critics. Such shunning is undeserved, as 1492: Conquest of Paradise is a richer and more thought-provoking experience than both the avowedly lowbrow Gladiator and the re-evaluated-but-still-so-so director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. It may stand guilty of presenting an overly sympathetic portrait of Columbus, but it isn’t shy about pressing a critical stance on his legacy.

Sanchez: The truth is, that he now presides over a state of chaos, of degradation, and of madness. From the beginning, Columbus proved himself completely incapable of ruling these islands…