John Michael McDonagh moves to the United States for his third feature film, following the very Irish ‘The Guard’ and ‘Calvary’. Such a transition often brings an implication of a larger emphasis on action and spectacle, and while that could certainly be said for ‘War on Everyone’, the film doesn’t lose any of McDonagh’s cynical wit or ethically dubious characters.
Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña star as detectives Terry and Bob who, quite simply, don’t play by the rules. That might sound rather banal, but the two characters will seemingly do almost anything in order to make their job easier, while making it fun in their own belligerent and carefree way. They carry on with their indulgences hassle free until they cross paths with a new local crime boss played by Theo James.
The film succeeds, for the most part, due to Skarsgård and Peña’s chemistry and gleefully seedy charisma. Even if the film never fully manages to make the characters well rounded enough to be sympathetic (as it sometimes wishes to), the energy the two actors put out always make them engaging and fun enough to watch. Peña in particular is always a delight to see on screen, with this role being a great showcase for his endearing comedic talents.
McDonagh, as ever, mines humour in the pure arrogance and offensiveness of his characters. This is played to extremes in ‘War on Everyone’, where barely a scene will go by without the characters belittling someone for something like their religion or mental disorder. The humour intended in these scenes work most of the time, since it comes from the audaciousness of the characters rather than any active political statement from McDonagh.
The same quality cannot be said for some other aspects, such as the lazy representation of its two major female characters. While they are both presented as intellectuals, quoting philosophy and discussing their times spent travelling the world, McDonagh seems to want it both ways, as their depth is mostly superficial and both are placed into stereotypical motherhood roles come the end.
‘War on Everyone’s’ biggest issue, however, is in its lack of cohesiveness. McDonagh chucks too many contrasting characteristics into the story, with only a few of them working together. This is perhaps felt most dearly in any scene containing Theo James’ character. While the role of a heroin-addicted English Lord crime-boss almost works by itself, in context he feels as though he has incongruously come from an entirely different story. In a similar vein, the two detectives are frequently threatened to be reprimanded for their actions, yet when they finally are it’s caused by something trivial and doesn’t seem to have any actual impact on the plot.
The film also suffers from temporary inflections of artisticness, particularly during attempts to add depth to Skarsgård’s enigmatic character. These scenes ultimately just harshly contrast to the broader scenes of rampant jokes and foot chases. Again, McDonagh has put in characteristics which would work individually in different films, but don’t gel with the majority of this one.
‘War on Everyone’ shines most when it focuses on the hilariously offensive actions of its main characters. However, its incohesive plot and multiple failing eccentricities stop the film short from being properly recommended.