Film Review: War on Everyone

The Sun Is Lesser For The Parts

On punched paper, or maybe on a bruised computer screen, whichever format the incredible writer/director talent that is John Michael McDonagh chooses to stare down his words on when building his brutally dark yet instantly relatable worlds, the concept and talents that were being wrangled together/harnessed for his latest cinematic rodeo ‘War On Everyone’ (2016) was a dead cert to win. Only for it to rope itself in the final round. Maybe there were too many rodeo clowns involved, which actually might have led to the opening joke in the movie.


Or maybe it’s a case of third time slightly unlucky and it’s probably best to get it out of the way early in a career. But to be fair, having previously written/directed the absolutely outstanding movies ‘The Guard’ (2011) and ‘Cavalry’ (2014), McDonagh can have as many get out of jail cards as he wants, for even his weaker work is light years ahead of the majority of stuff that is regularly presented to us as entertainment. And to be fair again, I certainly had WAY too high expectations when I looked at the equation of the elements involved, though I am shite at maths.

McDonagh is to an extent the cinematic equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson (my favourite author), a visceral truth seeking missile that can equally gently decapitate with a bards words made of razor wire, or with the deliberate subtilely of an atomic bomb in your packet of Tayto (crisps). There will be no prisoners taken at any point, because in the parameters of his finality, you know to enjoy the very moment you are in whilst it lasts. Bit like a terrorist Buddha.

His regular muse Brendan Glesson (who starred in both his previous outings) is sadly nowhere to be seen, probably for potential sunburn insurance reasons as ‘War On Everyone’ is set in the baking heat of New Mexico rather than the overcast Emerald Isle. Despite the said temperature our two beautifully degenerate, bad to the comedy bone miscreant cops Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) are dressed to the nines living it up to the max of their ill gotten gains, which are numerous to say the least. They only serve and protect themselves, the badge is their passport and church collection plate that takes from everyone, there’s actually a honour of consistency in their outright contempt for all around them, and it’s wonderful to watch when they hit their stride, a comedy of wanton chaos.

Skarsgård is the hulking alcoholic brawn to Peña’s existential intellect, constantly and loyally backing/covering up each others illegal moves. They have a comfort factor in the regularity of what the routinely get away with, which of course hits a slight bump when various factors create a pathway that leads to a right old bad egg of the establishment in the shape of Lord James Mangan (Theo James), an English playboy aristocrat fop who epitomises idle hands makes the devil, and his loyal subordinate play thing Birdwell (Caleb Landry Jones).


Many many factors spiral into the vortex that ensues which of course is the main issue with the film. There are individually loads of moments that are great, but a lack of focus brings a patchwork feel. It’s as though there was a notebook of great separate sketches, that looked and sounded amazing on paper, but didn’t translate to a fluid focused piece. There’s also a few moments that looked good on paper and just don’t work at all, which of course feels like smacking another speed bump, and now your annoyed at having spilt your drink all over your lap instead of paying attention to and enjoying the film.

Things naturally escalate whilst of course degenerate in typical beautifully dark McDonagh brogue, but there are a couple of elements that seem to have dropped in from outer space or at least from another porn movie that just jar and add to the discomfort of the other editorial peas (potential underwear modelling ad/dance sequence moments) in the mattress. Don’t get me wrong, McDonagh is a genius in causing deliberate discomfort, but there was always a solid validity and context to their dark crushingly cruel honesty, here they seem more shock value.

But as I said, even his weaker work is leagues above everyone else. The two leads are fantastic riotous fun, and it would be a joy to see them have further debauched escapades. Everyone else is on great form too particularly Caleb who is quite a captivating individual reminiscent of Mick Jagger in Roeg’s ‘Performance’ (1970). And of course it being a John Michael McDonagh movie it would be sacrilegious not to go see it, though some of the best jokes are blasphemous. The brilliant Glenn Campbell soundtrack can definitely stay, but lets just hope the next one is set back in cloudy Ireland.


‘War On Everyone’ is out now.

See Steve’s film review of The Greasy Strangler here >

Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.