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

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

That’s what it’s all about. Interrupting someone’s life.

Following (1998) (SPOILERS) The Nolanverse begins here. And for someone now delivering the highest-powered movie juggernauts globally – that are not superhero or James Cameron movies – and ones intrinsically linked with the “art” of predictive programming, it’s interesting to note familiar themes of identity and limited perception of reality in this low-key, low-budget and low-running time (we won’t see much of the latter again) debut. And, naturally, non-linear storytelling. Oh, and that cool, impersonal – some might say clinical – approach to character, subject and story is also present and correct.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c