In the time between seeing and reviewing John Michael McDonagh’s new film War on Everyone, I have racked my brains for explanations as to how the writer/director of a film as sensitive, poignant, and encapsulating of modern Ireland as Calvary, could then go on to miss the mark so egregiously with this total mess.
The buddy-cop duo of Terry (Alexander Skarsgård), and Bob (Michael Peña) spending their time drinking, wise-cracking and taking bribes across their stomping grounds of current-day New Mexico constitutes much of the film’s convoluted plot. Make no mistake, having a narrative as incomprehensible as this would be a problem for most films, but this particular obstacle is the least obstinate of the film’s many shortcomings. Tarantino is often derided for his characters all sounding like him, however, the results are often quite agreeable. McDonagh, unfortunately, blows Tarantino out of the water with the pseudo-intellectual smugness of the entire ensemble. Almost every character has an inexplicable need to wax lyrical about feminist theorists, Descartes, Joseph Conrad; the list is exhaustive. Occasionally, characters make a quip about the nature of human existence and earn a titter from the viewer but these moments are few and far between. What we are left with is a script sounding as though it were written by someone who delights in the sound of their own voice far too much, and listening to it sounds like how chewing paracetamol tastes.
It also needs to be made of note the film takes no small joy in presenting a vast array of less-oft depicted peoples: transgender people, people with Down’s syndrome, Quakers. Disappointingly, it seems to have nothing worthwhile to say about this ‘diversity’, instead using them to offer cheap ‘edgy’ gags, an attitude that, worryingly, extends to mentions of police violence towards back people. It is with a heavy (and utterly bewildered) heart I must a report War on Everyone to be a confounding release from a director we would have expected much better of.
(Image courtesy of Berlin Film Festival)