It was the glorious balance between comedy and pathos which illuminated the screen in each of John Michael McDonagh’s preceding endeavours The Guard and Calvary; both spiked with a certain sadness – a dark edge that enriched the viewer’s experience. His latest, War on Everyone thrives far more in humour, which wouldn’t be so much of a problem had the film been more consistently funny.
Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) and Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) are police officers with an unhealthy affliction for breaking the law, a danger to the very people they’re hired to protect. Corrupt and greedy, they hit the jackpot with stumbling across a robbery, tracking, and blackmailing the perpetrators Lord James Mangan (Theo James) and Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones), knowing that with their position as law enforcers they hold all the cards. Or so they think, as the deeper they find themselves in this distinctly murky operation, the harder it is to simply get up and leave.
McDonagh, much like his brother, Martin, has made the move across to the States and found it a challenge to maintain his distinctive sensibilities as a filmmaker, losing that small-town Irish setting that illuminated both of his last two films, enlarging in landscape and struggling to capture the subtlety and nuance of his comedy. Needless to say there are plenty of jokes that hit the mark, but more variety is certainly needed, for this is effectively one long joke stretched out – that of two nasty cops breaking the law. But the offensive nature of the humour is consistently entertaining, with nobody safe from ridicule, no matter where you come from or what you may preach – if you’re a living being you’re a target, and this film thrives in that notion, living by the rule that if you offend absolutely everybody, then nobody can get offended.
The leading duo do make for wonderful antiheroes however, and despite being reprehensible for the most part, they ensure the viewer remains (just) on side. Their chemistry is palpable, and performances accomplished; but it’s the villains that steal the show, with Birdwell a truly terrifying creation and Mangan a somewhat subversive antagonist. However it’s not enough to save this film. McDonagh has promised us a ‘glorified suicide’ trilogy, but has since confirmed that War on Everyone is not the third, and final entry. That’s still to come – which is fortunate, for this would’ve made for a disappointing conclusion.