REVIEW: War On Everyone
Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Pena, Theo James, Malcolm Barrett
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…it just doesn’t ring true.
When a promising early career director makes a poor film, we must be careful not to react too sternly. London-born John Michael McDonagh previously made The Guard (2011) and Calvary (2104), both excellent films with a fresh take on violence and fate and the absurdity of the human condition. The Guard (which saw Brendan Gleeson’s Irish cop teamed with Don Cheadle’s FBI agent to investigate an international drug-smuggling ring) had a transatlantic flavour but kept an ironic tension between the Irish and American ways of justice. Here, McDonagh (who also writes his scripts) goes boots and all into an American idiom, but it just doesn’t ring true.
The story centres on two vile and corrupt cops, Terry (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bob (Michael Pena). They spend most of their time beating up or ripping off the local crims in order to finance their own pseudo-cool lifestyles. Pena (who was so good in End Of Watch) here resorts to a façade of toughness. He plays Bob as a lazy stereotype of a Mexican cop, constantly warring with his overweight, spoilt kids. Skarsgard played Tarzan earlier this year, and he has inadvertently brought some of the same body language to this role. He looks good with his shirt off, but is unable to suggest any depth to his actual character. There are slightly better turns in the minor roles. Theo James from the Divergent series is effective as the evil English aristocrat villain, while Malcolm Barrett amusingly livens things up as the hapless Reggie, a bungling bank robber.
McDonagh can write a killer script, but it’s slightly wearing to hear the brain-addled pair endlessly repeating their silly and circular conversations. Equally dispiriting is potty-mouthed dialogue presented as if it is stylish or funny. For example, when Pena is in a fancy restaurant, his idea of wit is to comment to the waiter on the wine by saying, “Hey ass-fuck, did you shit in this?” And we’re supposed to admire this guy? Or maybe we aren’t. The film can’t decide, and neither can we. The idea of a buddy movie approach to a crime caper employing dysfunctional or dirty cops has been done so much over the last five years that it’s amazing that they thought there was any room for this decidedly misjudged addition. Oh well, artists occasionally earn the right to fail.