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War on Everyone

A very dark, very twisted buddy cop comedy from the guy behind Calvary and The Guard.
By Sarah Ward
November 21, 2016
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By Sarah Ward
November 21, 2016
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When you've already mined the funny side of Irish law enforcement and contemplated the impact of religion, what comes next? If you're John Michael McDonagh, director of The Guard, Calvary and now War on Everyone, you take aim at crooked cops in the United States. Specifically, you focus your third feature on a duo who enjoy their rule-breaking ways, venture into bigger, badder territory than they're used to, and subsequently — surprisingly — start to feel a little conflicted about it.

Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) are the pair in question: one quick to violence and happily single, the other somewhat contemplative and married with kids. They both like each other, cracking wise, the corrupt niche they've carved out for themselves, and little else ("you can shoot people for no reason," Terry explains when asked why he joined the force). First introduced running down a cocaine-dealing mime, they're soon trying to shake off scrutiny from their boss (Paul Reiser) while attempting to steal cash from a new group of criminals. Alas, as they beat and blackmail their way around Albuquerque — and to Iceland and back as well — their plan unwittingly places them in the path of a far-from-forgiving British aristocrat turned kingpin (Theo James).

Spouting dialogue that eagerly, indiscriminately insults any group you can think of, Terry and Bob's war really is on everyone — including, in an extension of their self-destructive ways, themselves. Cue a film that combines irreverent misanthropy, a raft of cop clichés, and a partial journey of self-discovery. Thanks to McDonagh's dripping satire and cynicism, plenty of laughs spring from their antics, but the end result remains hit-and-miss. Think Starsky and Hutch remade for the post-True Detective age, complete with the back-and-forth banter and philosophising the blend suggests, and a dash of awkwardness too.

When War on Everyone is good, though, it's very good. It's strikingly shot, energetically paced and extraordinarily well cast as far as its leads are concerned. Indeed, while co-stars such as Caleb Landry Jones and Tessa Thompson are asked to either rely upon caricature or given too little to work with, Skarsgard and Pena enliven every scene they're in, and even make their unsympathetic-on-paper characters somehow likeable. Viewed simply as a collection of buddy cop scenes written and directed by someone who has obviously watched a sizeable serving of '70s American cinema, and starring two actors with a clear feel for the material and a rapport with each other, War on Everyone entertains more often than it doesn't.

Where the film struggles, however, is in piecing together anything substantial or cohesive beyond its stylish sights, spiky lines and impressive leads. At times, it plays like the kind of wannabe Quentin Tarantino flick that might have dropped in the mid-'90s. Fun, funny, but nothing to write home about.

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