Starring: Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgaard, Tessa Thompson
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Running Time: 98mins
Synopsis: Two corrupt cops, who spend most of their time blackmailing crims whilst doing drugs and generally being sleaze balls, find themselves battling against a criminal who may just be too dangerous than even they are.
The picture above perfectly encapsulates what this film stands for. Cool, stylish, funny and irresponsible. John Michael McDonagh has tackled this sort of thing before with his stunning 2011 flick The Guard. That film came out of nowhere with a confidence and control in tone that signalled John was more than a match for his brother Martin (In Bruges). Veering from big laughs to dark off kilter dramatic material anchored by a towering Brendan Gleeson, whom he utilised even better in 2014s soulful Calvary. This time he leans on two terrific performances to deliver his brand of irreverent dialogue.
Michael Pena gives an energetic witty performance as Bob. A loyal friend to the more firebrand Teddy (Skarsgaard), he is hyper verbose and has a ball with McDonagh’s surreal writing. Spitting out random nonsensical ‘facts’ that the more naive Teddy takes as truth, he has a swagger that you feel is only down to the close camaraderie and support of Teddy. Their interplay is quick fire, rich and surprisingly warm. When events require Bob to support Teddy’s possibly life threatening escapades in the final act you never for once question that he will stand by his friend through it all.
Skarsgaard has the more showy role and commits to it with utter gusto. Hot-headed, a little lunk-headed and quick to raise his fists, Teddy is at the risk of being your typical insane bent copper seen in many of these types of films. However McDonagh wisely laces in some unexpected hidden depths. His relationship with Jackie, Tessa Thompson continuing the fine work she delivered in last years Creed, reveals a man of surprising vulnerabilities. A late turn featuring a homeless child further sells this violent and brutish man as having a bigger heart than you first thought. Not to mention the terrific chemistry with Pena, one moment of Bob rejecting an offer of a night out features a brief and subtle look of sadness on Teddy’s face. Skarsgaard seems to be having a whale of a time with the dialogue too. His eyes lighting up when the prospect of beating down on some crims presents itself. He adopts an odd stature too, with hunched shoulders leaving his suit looking ill fitting and accentuating his character’s out of place nature. It is a brilliant performance, memories of The Legend of Tarzan all but forgotten.
The film itself has a very much out of place nature too. Set in an undetermined time period it all adds up to a somewhat surreal feel, very much like his previous films (both The Guard and Calvary feel very much timeless). He once more delivers a script of wit, humour and energy. But he does struggle with the increasingly speedy tonal lurches. Whereas Calvary was very much a drama with an undercurrent of gallows humour, War on Everyone sits in an uncomfortable middle ground. Talk of rape and child abuse sit awkwardly amongst the racist joking and oddly captivating romantic dance scenes. The opening scenes, especially, are a tough watch, with not much of the comedy landing and a quick succession of character introductions given no real context.
Flaws also lie in the incredibly thin story and dull villains. Theo James is effectively menacing as the British big bad, enjoying fine wine and high culture but with a sideline in decapitations. The rest are broadly generic, with Caleb Landry Jones being incessantly annoying as a high voiced grotesque pervert. He should’ve been killed off way earlier than his inevitable grisly end. These issues all prevent this joining his previous masterpieces, but War on Everyone still manages to be gleefully manic fun.
Verdict: A playful witty script married to two deliciously warped performances make up for some poor tonal changes. You may not like some of the things these guys get up to but you’ll be having too much fun to care.