War on Everyone is the 3rd film from Irish writer/director John Michael McDonagh. His previous works, The Guard (2011) and Calvary (2014) have set the bar quite high, so how does this story of a pair of amoral cops measure up? I went to see it to find out.
Terry and Bob are two corrupt cops living and operating in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They spend their days shaking down, framing and black mailing every criminal they come across. As they attempt to foil a robbery and keep the loot for themselves, they inadvertently cross paths with a vicious British Lord. It turns out this time the duo maybe in way over their heads.
This is a film that has been on our radar for a while now. I am a huge fan of the buddy cop genre and with McDonagh coming off the back of the fantastic Calvary, there was a lot to be excited about going into this. McDonagh moves his camera off the Emerald Isle for the first time, setting the action in sun drenched New Mexico. Thankfully the tone, jet black comedy and quirky characters have all come with him.
We open with an over the top montage in which we meet out (anti) heroes. Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) is an amoral wreck, swigging bottles of beer for breakfast and dealing with an uncomfortable genital itch. Bob ( Snooty Usher’s dependable Michael Peña) is a family man (a pretty bad one), but in no way is he squeaky clean. All the classic buddy movie elements are here, cruising around in a cool car, hitting up informants, the family man/loose cannon dynamic, foot chase, strip club scene, hero been beaten up and the grouchy captain (played brilliantly here by Paul Reiser). They are well known tropes, but they are played gloriously over the top.
Skarsgård and Peña are both great as they are given free license to make their characters as utterly despicable are possible. They come across as any buddy cop duos evil twin. You don’t like these guys, there are no redeeming qualities, but you kind of find yourselves rooting for them anyway. Skarsgård plays Terry with a lumbering sense of menace with hidden vulnerability, almost Tom Hardy like in stature with glimpses of his father thrown in. Michael Peña is his consistently brilliant best.
Beyond the leads, Tessa Thompson from Creed, continues to impress as Terry’s stripper girlfriend but the big surprise is Theo James (The Divergent Series) as the utterly despicable Lord James Mangan. He is wonderfully lecherous and gloriously evil. There is a tracking shot late on that he dominates with the grace and confidence of a real star. He is definitely one to watch (could definitely see him in a black tux with a Walther PPK one day). There are a plethora of quirky characters too with Caleb Landry Jones’ Jagger-esque club owner and David Wilmot’s shell suited informant particularly stand out.
There are some great set pieces too, the trade mark buddy cop movie foot chase scene is a treat, especially when the pair are using members of the public as human shields during a gun battle. The use of music is also excellent. Terry is a Glen Campbell fan and his songs are scattered across the film, juxtaposed with some pretty jarring hip hop.
The film itself sadly it just isn’t as good as it thinks it is. Yes, it is funny in places, very funny but it isn’t quite enough. The leads are awful people but it feels like half way through McDonagh decided (or was made to) give these characters a shot at redemption. We get an child abuse story thrown in in the final third that feels horribly tacked on. I would have preferred the film to have had the courage of its convictions and go all out on the fact that these guys were bad and there was no way back. Instead, it switches and they both become about doing what is right and it just felt out of place. I felt frustrated and a little let down by the sudden character change, which sadly felt like a bit of a cop out (sorry).
There is a lot of good things in this film and it is worth a watch for the two leads and a brilliant turn from Theo James, but beyond that it sadly wont live long in the memory.
Thanks for reading. Hope you folks enjoyed yourselves, catch ya later on down the trail.