War On Everyone Review [SXSW 2016]


“If it ain’t broke, break it.” Ugh, can I motion to get a new McDonagh movie at least once a year?!

War On Everyone, or, as I call it, “A Very McDonagh Nihilism Tale,” is more of the John Michael McDonagh we’ve come to know and shield our loved ones from. No one is safe. Not the usual suspects (racial targets like Asians, African Americans, The Irish), nor innocent bystanders (pudgy Mexican horse caretakers, Icelandic folk, Sommeliers), which is fine, because the McDonaghs (both John Michael and his brother Martin) have a way of remaining acceptably entertaining in their sharp-tongued skewering. John Michael knows his cinematic strengths, so it’s no surprise that War On Everyone – aptly titled for its braggadocios’ ambition – doesn’t deviate from the McDonaghs’ highly entertaining, heroically off-color barrage of ef-you’s one iota. Better for us, worse for humanity.

Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña star as Terry Monroe and Bob Bolaño, two cops who not only ignore the rulebook but piss all over it, probably while crossing streams. Terry’s blatant alcoholism makes him a constant loose-cannon, while Bob talks his way through most confrontations, typically while poking fun at his target. During a routine “bust,” their intimidation tactics and loose morals lead them to a dangerous criminal, Lord James Mangan (Theo James), who proves to be their toughest mark. But Bob and Terry refuse defeat and come back swinging harder, and more reckless, than ever before.

Most provocatively, War On Everyone makes a statement against the larger police entity, as both Bob and Terry represent enforcers you love to hate (or just hate). Bob’s bribery tactics are off-the-charts greedy, while Terry’s drinking highlights societal generalizations that cops can get away with murder.

Furthermore, their boss, played by Paul Rieser, goes on to describe his precinct’s population as big, fat racist pigs of the Caucasian variety, which Bob experiences when he’s referred to as a Wetback. In a time when police sensitivity has reached its peak (hopefully), McDonagh not only confronts the beast head-on but embraces it, and somehow makes us root for overly sleazy, yet genuinely charming stereotypes who are more like vulgar Robin Hoods. They seem to only take advantage of those bad enough, so what’s there to disapprove of?

It helps that War On Everyone is ferociously hilarious and aggressively outspoken, from an opening that asks (and answers) if a mime makes a sound when getting hit by a car, to Bob and Terry locating their country-jumping informant by standing still in Iceland (how long can it take to find a black man in Iceland?).

Bob and Terry’s comedy offends, harasses, and cares not about political correctness, but unlike Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Brothers Grimsby, insults are supplemented by cracking wit and poignant satire – not grotesque buffoonery. Consequences are ignored because both cops have abandoned civility, as Bob unsympathetically muses about happiness being a misleading chemical secretion. Just because we’re trained to be happy, doesn’t mean we are.

These characters are self-centered go-getters, because nothing is a given. Why not have a little fun? Sure, Terry’s “Jihad” insult against some Hijab-wearing tennis players seems out-of-place, but McDonagh actually works to polish such material for proper insertion. You cringe, then you laugh, Cringe, then laugh. Rinse and repeat.

Peña and Skarsgård are a comedic dream team, as their chemistry effortlessly weaves together absurd ideas and crass conflicts. Skarsgård’s inner pain feeds off of Bob’s boisterous attitude, one being the muscle, and the other acting as hype man. I’ll admit, I thought Peña would severely overshadow Skarsgård, but Terry’s constant intoxication makes for a deeply complex character whose biggest moments involve throwing one knockout punch (that thugs continually underestimate). Peña rattles off a billion and one jokes, all of which stick, as ghetto rap blaring themes of authority play over heated chases, to downplay any seriousness around two signature McDonagh characters.

But, Peña was born to spout dickish comments followed by a coy, childish smile, while Skarsgård embraces his inner Mel Gibson, drunkenly beating his way through life’s toughest problems. These two were made for War On Everyone, as confirmed by a gut-busting highlight reel of biting hilarity.

Oh, and a quick shout-out to Malcolm Barrett for keeping up with with Peña and Skarsgård’s performing stamina, and to Caleb Landry Jones for his creepy, pale-faced second fiddle villain. Plus Tessa Thompson as Skarsgård’s sexily intimidating lover! High-fives, all.

Where the film falters, and not monumentally, is in structuring some type of overarching caper. Theo James does his part in playing a drug-loving adversary, complete with a shirtless decapitation scene, but motivations become murky as Bob and Terry press onward down a dangerous rabbit hole. The duo see Lord Mangan as a bad dude who needs dealing with, and go completely rogue to do so. Reiser’s authority at least acknowledges their random disappearances, especially Iceland, but sometimes we lose focus on why Mangan is even being pursued. McDonagh has a few scenes that get too preoccupied with shooting dagger-like insults in every foreseeable direction, and plotting does suffer in these moments (a John Woo shootout minus the doves?). But you’re still laughing, and that’s hard to forget.

Getting down to brass tacks, War On Everyone does exactly what it sets out to do – not give a single fuck. John Michael McDonagh’s wheelhouse is squeezing laughter out of the most inappropriate moments, from a destructive strip-club raid to a murder scene where his two leading lawmen enjoy cheeseburgers over a fresh corpse. McDonagh bathes in the tears of politically correct watchdogs, and deals out riotous verbal lashings with fearless equality, just as a confident humorist should. War On Everyone isn’t the filmmaker’s tightest work, but it’s still seething with take-no-prisoners comedy, and a mean-streak that any McDonagh fan with absolutely adore.

War On Everyone Review [SXSW 2016]

War On Everyone is a pitch-black, nihilistic riot, like a pissed-off teenager spinning atop a mountain with two outstretched middle fingers pointing in every direction.