It seems that every new television show nowadays is a dark-and-gritty detective/crime story, and frankly I am tired of all of them. Now while there are some shows that deserve the praise and attention they get, it seems that the market is saturated with glowering detectives or sympathetic and complex criminal antiheros. It is refreshing then when a film comes along and plays with the genre and troupes in a way that is entertaining, intelligent and innovative. Enter War on Everyone, the latest outing from writer/director John Michael McDonagh, the man behind Calvary and The Guard, to kick in the door and extort the cash from any willing audience member.
The plot of War on Everyone focuses on two violent, corrupt, immoral police officers, Detectives Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña). The former an irreparable drunk and the heavy of the duo, the latter a family man with a penchant for high culture and controlled substances. The audience follows the two as they stumble onto a robbery, planned by the vile “Lord” James Mangan (Theo James) and the bizarre and despicable Russell Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones), and decide that they are going to take the money themselves.
The strength of many crime and police stories depends on the mystery of the crime committed, but War on Everyone takes a different route. The plot of the film is really unimportant. That is not to say that it is bad, rather the focus of the film is on the characters interaction with the plot. This may sound strange and trust me it is a thing that you have to try to get used to very quickly and you can end up worrying that you haven’t fully understood the plot. There was a period of the film where I was worried that the film would be a series of fantastically witty skits strung together by a lacklustre crime caper, but once I understood the way the film worked I was able to enjoy it more thoroughly. And enjoy it I did.
The source of humour and enjoyment comes mainly from the characters, specifically how Monroe and Bolaño seem to deconstruct every situation they find themselves in. Both emanate the air of McDonagh’s previous dirty policeman Gerry Boyle in The Guard and Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson in Filth; the detectives in War on Everyone are equally as deliciously degenerate as these others. These characters are played to perfection Skardgård provides a perfect drunken brute with a tender side while Peña is the ideal companion as fast talking renaissance man. While many will say that there are some very clichéd scenes in the film, I think that these clichés are raised to another level by placing what are effectively cartoon characters into them; Monroe and Bolaño seem to be in another movie to everyone else, especially the villains Mangan and Birdwell. Mangan tries to be a criminal emperor, intimidating and murdering to get his way, all the while the heroes disrupt the flow of his villainous monologues, and seem totally unfazed by his intimidation tactics. While Mangan could be seen as a thinly veiled examination of class exceptionalism, it is in the characters of Monroe and Bolaño that there is a true examination of the crime genre and it is they that show the true genius of the film.
It is not just the two main characters that are a source of fun, Pádraic Power and Reggie are a great double act providing some of the best gags of the film, especially a section where Monroe and Bolaño chase Reggie to Iceland. The Lieutenant in charge of the precinct reveals more police bias and corruption through some clever commentary on modern American police/public relations. They are also a marvel to watch on screen.
The film is not all dialogue and character interactions, it is a constructed marvel, especially the editing. It employs a great variety of techniques to remind the audience that this is a film, for example the opening credits have later sections of the film interlaid within them. Slowmotion is used a great deal to create amazing moving tableaux that are not only great to look at but make you think about the character, situation or theme. There are screen wipe transitions, and a slightly fragmented beginning, which leaves you feeling confused and disorientated, lacking the larger picture, much like a detective investigating crimes.
Visually the film is inventive, with a great use of costume colour and framing to tell a fascinatic story. It is clear that dispite his start in screenplays McDonagh understands that one must use sound and vision to make a fully emersive and entertaining film film not just dialogue and story. All this combined with a great soundtrack of Glen Campbell playing at all the right, and wrong points, it is a must see experience. As we left the theatre both a friend and I said that we needed to listen to more of the country artist.
This film is truly something to behold and is a must watch. It is a masterful deconstruction and examination of all the clichés that have become attached to the crime genre. While it takes some getting used to it just means that you have the excuse to ride along again with these bizarrely degenerate characters.