Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Caleb Landry Jones, Paul Reiser, David Wilmot, Malcolm Barrett
Run Time: 97 mins
‘War On Everyone’ is the third directorial effort from writer-director John Michael McDonagh, of whom I really respect as both ‘The Guard’ and ‘Calvary’ were very strong films. Both of those films worked because they had extremely clever scripts, explored many different themes that question audience’s ideas and both had a winning performance from Brendan Gleeson, ‘Calvary’, in my opinion being a career-best performance. Here McDonagh ditches Gleeson as this is his first film set in America, in this case Alberqueque. ‘War On Everyone’ is a black comedy detailing two corrupt policemen played by Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård who blackmail people and twist evidence to their advantage and constantly get suspended from the force. However, things take a dark turn when they try to intimidate a rather important individual. Although Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård aren’t really a match for the heights of Brendan Gleeson, Peña is always very solid in whatever he is in but Skarsgård always is quite bland so it’s very important for them to have a good script to work with to be a good match and based on McDonagh’s normally exceptional scripts, this shouldn’t be too much to ask for. To me, ‘War On Everyone’ looks like John Michael McDonagh’s response to his even better brother, Martin McDonagh’s ‘Seven Psychopaths’ – a similarly offbeat comedy that tried to propel him to an American audience. Although I have great respect for ‘Seven Psychopaths’, it didn’t particularly do much to Martin McDonagh’s career so here’s hoping that ‘War on Everyone’ is able to be the film it needs to be to elevate John Michael McDonagh’s career.
Unfortunately, ‘War On Everyone’ is the definite worst of John Michael McDonagh’s three directorial efforts – it’s thinly plotted, poorly edited, suffers in its casting and ends up being rather conventional in places. Even though from about 20 minutes in it was quite apparent that this wasn’t going to be great, the film is still entertaining enough and benefits from McDonagh’s black humour that is peppered into the film. There are some individual sequences that really work on their own and McDonagh still poses some thoughtful questions to the viewer but the film never really gels together and feels very disjointed. I think part of this is McDonagh wanting this to be a 70’s buddy cop film throwback which the film does feel like one with its many swipe transitions but the flipside to this is that the film inevitably feels rather trashy which I never got the feeling whilst watching both ‘The Guard’ or ‘Calvary’.
Although Brendan Gleeson is sorely missed in its casting, Michael Peña is very solid in the main role as expected and is able to carry the film along but Alexander Skarsgård is also as expected, very bland and is a big problem for this film as this means that there is a lack of chemistry between the two leads which the film needs to be successful in to make us care for the characters. Whilst the script does give both actors several great moments, if one actor is severely lacking, the film isn’t going to work and this is not the first time Skarsgård has ruined a film and looking to the future, probably won’t be the last. Of the supporting cast, Theo James as the main villain gives a very middling performance and is too young and immature for the role – I have a feeling that this part was originally written for an older actor as he seemed very out of place. Conversely, Caleb Landry Jones as the henchman is a bit of an oddball and looks like he’s having a lot of fun in the role. Tessa Thompson as the love interest is just fine, nothing to write home about though. However along with Peña, McDonagh-regular David Wilmot and Malcom Barrett are both wonderful and are sophisticated but philosophically flawed characters which is what McDonagh normally excels in so at least the cast isn’t all bad.
The story is also one of the film’s biggest problems – it does almost nothing to stand itself apart from any other films of this genre other than include some of McDonagh’s signature black humour. The plot is paper thin and the film jumps across awkwardly from location to location and there isn’t a great deal of character development which is alarming as McDonagh normally excels in creating memorable characters and exploring their lives. The thin story then leads to the poor editing as there are many scenes that are too long and go nowhere or are too short and the awkward location jumping (you’ll recognise this instantly when you see it) really defies belief. Of course with any film as a medium, one must suspend belief for a few hours but there is a sequence mid-way through the film that although is played for laughs, really threw me out of the film for a bit.
Now although this review may seem as if the film is bad, it isn’t. There are a couple of sequences which deal with subjects of ethnicity and religion which in typical McDonagh fashion are quite funny and I never once got bored of the film even though I consciously knew as the film went on that this wasn’t going to be the best.
Although ‘War On Everyone’ isn’t particularly great and is a disappointment considering how good a director John Michael McDonagh is. But it’s still a good-enough disappointment that is always fairly entertaining and does have a couple of good performances and is fairly funny sometimes. However this is not the film that perhaps McDonagh envisaged as I can pretty confidently say that this will not get him particularly well recognised in America and even though his brother’s film, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ wasn’t particularly successful in America either, quality-wise it is leaps-and-bounds above this. Now hopefully for the audience, this means that John Michael McDonagh actually completes his trilogy that started with ‘The Guard’ and ‘Calvary’ with ‘The Lame Shall Enter First’ which should hopefully see him re-team with Brendan Gleeson as a paraplegic ex-policeman. That sounds like it could be another knockout and a return to form for this accomplished director! But back to this film, I wouldn’t rush to go and see it but if it turns up on television, it’s worth a watch as it’s entertaining enough.