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Review: War on Everyone

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

Provocation, always a central tenet of comedy, takes on a notably 21st century flavour in John Michael McDonagh’s latest film, War on Everyone.

Michael Pêna and Alexander Skarsgård play a pair of lovable but ridiculously corrupt cops in New Mexico that if not for all the technology and dialogue, could be mistaken for the 1980’s. There’s a distinctive recognition of the genre’s heritage here right down to the films screwball plot, which springs from the initial premise into an increasingly dire string of events.
Its billing as an oddball-buddy-cop-comedy, bears similarities to this years The Nice Guys; but where Shane Black’s thriller took aim at a refined, closed environment and story, McDonagh throws all pretences out the window with a taste for humour that will no doubt offend many. If they weren’t so funny at doing this, it would feel like the jokes in the film have been shoehorned in not to fulfil some essential progression of the film, but to satisfy a crude checklist of minority groups to offend. The film title then, is maybe more accurate a manifesto than it first seems.

Whilst it might be intent on offending, the film still adds some freshness to a familiar set-up. There’s awareness shown here of the world this movie lives in, as it eschews convention playfully and deliberately, resulting in some interesting and inventive setups. Stereotypes are exaggerated, characteristics too- there a total lack of subtlety in every department and it makes the film more enjoyable as a whole. The two leads also push the film along nicely, sticking true to this mantra. Pêna’s character is a snarky, overqualified cop that’s just as happy to talk greek mythology as he is to accept bribes from the seediest of criminals; while Skarsgård owns his role as an out of control alcoholic that seems to have forgotten what his job actually is. Theo James is the villain, a chilling Englishman that’s weird inclinations are as strange as they are violent, spitting out lines of dialogue that wax high art and vitriol to a dislikeable bit hugely entertaining effect.

McDonagh has yet to really test his critics, with his last three films, Calvary, Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges all achieving a high level of acclaim; but War on Everyone is probably his most risky endeavour yet. While there was a maturity underlining his previous films, the subtext to his latest strikes a different note with how it gleefully throws any seriousness out of the window. It’s a move that will disappoint some, especially with McDonagh’s ceaseless ability to match his violence with his social commentary, but not often does a film like this come along where the comedy is so unfiltered. It’s something he clearly revels in, and for the most part, we do too.

By all accounts it’s a film that dovetails a little too often – segueing between scenes in a fashion that at times recalls the pattern of sketch show – but it’s a film that on the whole crackles our politically correct sentiments to an overall hilarious result.