Award-winning Irish born, British raised, writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s (Calvary) latest effort on the silver screen is stylised, dark humoured and ultra violent.
The buddy crime caper was filmed on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a final week in Reykjavik, Iceland. It is about two corrupt cops in New Mexico (Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña) who set out to blackmail and frame every criminal unfortunate enough to cross their path. Things take a sinister turn, however, when the pair tries to intimidate someone who could just be more dangerous than they are.
Known for his distinctively witty sensibility and confrontational humour, upon start of production, McDonagh piped up with: “It gives me great pleasure to declare war on everyone with my fellow combatants, Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña. We look forward to the battles ahead and we will go on with a spirit that fears nothing.” So, this is a decidedly politically incorrect bad cop, bad cop black comedy with left-field narrative and a ‘70s feel to it.
It follows bad eggs Terry Monroe (Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Peña) as they break the law for a living in New Mexico. Terry is an alcoholic who loves Glen Campbell, while Bob is a closet intellectual who loves his wife and kids. When Terry and Bob try to shake down a strip-club manager (Caleb Landry Jones), the crooked duo comes up against criminal kingpin, James Mangan (Theo James).
McDonagh says while “The Guard and Calvary were directed in a measured, contemplative style … War on Everyone has a very different dynamic, one of quick-paced scenes followed by calm, contemplative moments.” He claims the genesis of the story was him being drunk and wanting to tell a funny story about a couple of corrupt cops and have the audience on their side. “It’s a contemporary Western, in a sense, so the story was always intended to be set in either Texas or New Mexico. The tax breaks available in New Mexico intrigued me more than the tax breaks available in Texas.”
Clearly McDonagh is a Glen Campbell fan and he reckons Campbell represents “a melancholy ‘70s existential mood”. I thought both of McDonagh’s previous films were great, but I wouldn’t say the same about War on Everyone. It is definitely different from your run-of-the-mill buddy crime films. It is anarchistic and anti authority – right out there, you might say – but it is arguably less accessible than its forebears and clearly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact as I see it, War on Everyone casts a decided narrow net when it comes to attracting an audience. Some will regard it as toying with the genre, while others will see it as having gone too far for no apparent reason other than as a get down and get dirty plaything for the writer/director. I dare say both views are probably close to the truth.
Performance wise, Skarsgård is the more extreme characterisation and he seems to have his tongue firmly planted in his cheek throughout. Before you consider buying a ticket, just keep in mind that regardless of the dark humour throughout, some of the violence is sickening. Still, it will undoubtedly find favour among a few. Let’s just hope it is not the sickos. Rated MA, War on Everyone scores a 6½ out of 10.
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson
Release Date: 17 November 2016
Rating MA 15+
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television