War on Everyone
|John Michael McDonagh
|John Michael McDonagh
|7 October 2016
War on Everyone is a film about two corrupt policemen and the mess they get into when they take their bribery down a new direction.
Sounds like the kind of film we’ve seen before
You know I’ve read another review where the film was described as “the thinking person’s Bad Boys“… I guess because this one isn’t about gratuitous macho posturing and explosions, but careful dialogue and plot. But for me, it came across more as the film-lover’s Bad Boys… There was so much to look at and appreciate about how it was made.
I’m talking beautiful landscapes – Iceland of all places! – wide shots to open a scene, and a striking long shot following the main antagonist through his mansion. (I admired that scene particularly; it was a neat device to show Lord James Mangan in his element, but also built up some extra tension.)
And the music was nicely chosen too, with rock and blues alternating with Glen Campbell; a selection which seemed largely bright and unusual for an action movie.
Okay, you liked the style. But what about the story?
Right. Terry and Bob (yes like the Likely Lads) don’t take their jobs seriously; they do just enough policing to keep their career ticking along and put much more effort into extra-curricular activities to up their income. They hear about an upcoming heist from an informant and go sniffing for a fortune.
Not going to tell you any more about the plot, though: it’s worth watching carefully. How one thing leads to another isn’t spelled out clearly – your intelligence is assumed, dear viewer – but it also does meander somewhat between different groups of characters, locations, and elements of the plot, so do pay attention.
I know some have considered that meandering to be basically a mess, but not me: life’s like that! Sure, there were aspects of the writing and characters which were over-the-top and funny, but I really liked the air of going-with-the-flow that surrounded a good deal of the film:
- Informant has gone overseas? Never mind, we’ll find him.
- Can’t be arsed with parking carefully? Excuse for a good joke.
- Bloke we were looking for is dead? Oh well, finish your lunch.
This makes the characters – on the surface reckless louts – laissez faire and open-minded. And it’s an absolute breath of fresh air: so often we watch protagonists who know everything that’s going on or are capable of handling anything without warning/training/funds. We have just a little time to get to know these guys and then it is easy to accept them as they are.
Funny, I’ve heard that McDonagh writes about offensive loudmouths.
Prior to War on Everyone, John Michael McDonagh wrote and directed The Guard and Calvary, both in Ireland, and both starred Brendan Gleeson. Well, I can’t comment on his films in general – this is the first I’ve seen of his. Pretty much all the characters in this film say what they think without filters, for sure. But they’re not offensive in a “politically incorrect” sense: when Bob and Terry encountered someone they found unusual, they didn’t poke fun or insult them, but talked things through and simply accepted what they couldn’t work out.
Didn’t he make In Bruges as well?
And who was in War on Everyone?
Oh some excellent cast, many of whom you’ll have seen before, but may not be able to place… Alexander Skarsgård (Tarzan, True Blood) and Michael Peña (End of Watch) are the two policemen, the good-looking Theo James (Divergent) is the aristocratic big bad, Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok) the former stripper. They were all excellent, but the one who stood out as particularly interesting was Caleb Landry Jones (Steven in Twin Peaks season 3), the fragile yet confident club owner sidekick; it was a small part, but played with care: watch out for how his craft develops via Three Billboards.
So was it funny, exciting or what?
Not exciting as such, but colourful and entertaining throughout, and funny on and off. I laughed out loud several times – unusual for me – and I would happily watch it again for the colourful, careless joy of the film. Yeah, there were serious bits too – some very serious – so I struggle to accept the comedy label. And a good deal of the violence was extreme. But all of it was just a little exaggerated, like an old-fashioned cops and robbers show, and terrifically engaging.
Not everyone found it so satisfying, though, did they?
No, indeed! This is a perfect example of mixed reviews… Some critics considered the protagonists shallow and over-the-top; though in my view they had breadth, just not much of it was relevant to the film. Some considered the plot aimless (and I’ve already addressed the “meandering” above)… but to me, it does progress, with a conclusion that shows a real change for the two main characters.
Watch it, for sure; but when you’re wide awake and able to both relish it all and pay good attention.