When I first learned the third film by acclaimed writer/director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary) had managed to breeze through theaters and end up on home video without any fanfare, I was shocked. Having since seen the film, my surprise is muted. War on Everyone has many of the elements that made McDonagh's earlier films great: witty, pitch-black humor; a streak of philosophical ennui; unexpected violence; and a combination of caustic protagonists and unique side characters. Sadly, the ingredients don't add up to a satisfying meal.
Terry (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bob (Michael Pena) are cops in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who have gotten the sense that their time on the force is running out.
They close cases, but they're nearly as awful as the criminals they're supposedly cracking down on: drinking and drug use, unnecessary force, bribes, etc. Their latest scheme: rip off $1m in drug money from a local crime lord, James Mangan (Theo James), and retire on it.
War on Everyone's primary problem is that McDonagh's grasp on tone is missing. Calvary, in particular, exhibited an incredibly subtle maneuvering between drama and hints of wry, bone-dry comedy. War on Everyone feels more like a parody of McDonagh's previous work (or perhaps that of his more famous brother Martin, who wrote and directed In Bruges) than the real thing. At the heart of this issue are the characters of Terry and Bob, who are both genuinely reprehensible people. It could be argued that War resembles The Guard in many ways, but Brendan Gleeson's character in that film wasn't truly racist, or an atrocious police officer. Too much of McDonagh's humor here is predicated on the notion that the viewer will like Terry and Bob enough to laugh along with them, which fundamentally knocks the film off balance. Increased shading of their personas as the film continues alleviates the problem slightly, and there are moments when both Skarsgard and Pena hit the right notes, but for the most part their supposed antics are cringeworthy.
It doesn't help that War on Everything hardly has any visual personality. The Guard and Calvary didn't appear to be particularly expensive movies, and Calvary may have had the benefit of a beautiful setting, but War on Everything has a decidedly cheap look to it. Most of the sets and locations have zero atmosphere or character to them, which makes the movie feel artificial as a whole, and untethers the characters from any sort of reality. Compounded with their ability to get away with anything, including criminal behavior (Terry drunkenly smashing into neighborhood cars on his way to visit Bob), or just silly (flying to Iceland to track down a missing perp), the movie lacks a foundation for the audience to bounce its expectations off of for the jokes. Is this essentially a cartoon movie where anything can happen, or do Terry and Bob occupy a relatively rational world where certain rules will apply even if their ability to get away with their behavior seems supernatural?
There are a few brights spots in the murk. Tessa Thompson is mostly wasted as the ex-girlfriend of a perp that Terry and Bob bust. Terry takes an interest, and the early scenes they share together are oddly sweet and sexy, and a brief scene where Terry becomes fixated on a painting on her wall feels like an exchange out of the movie I would've hoped to see from McDonagh. Malcolm Barrett gives a good performance as a slightly smarter low-level perp that Terry and Bob try to use in their robbery, although he has a subplot later in the movie involving a trans woman that becomes hard to parse between McDonagh's understanding of trans relationships being misinformed, or Terry and Max again being slightly awful. Yet, all the movie manages to culminate in is a shootout in a warehouse where unsavory pornography is filmed, featuring characters on various facades used in the films. It's a perfect summary of the film's problems: violent, almost amusing, sort of interesting, without much thought put into it.
War on Everyone retains its theatrical poster art, featuring Skarsgard and Pena emerging, guns drawn, from a giant billowing smoke cloud. You'd think the poster artist would've made sure their badges were more visible, but what do I know. The two-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Blu-ray case with a matte, nearly-identical slipcover around it, and inside the case there is a DVD copy and a sheet with an UltraViolet Digital HD copy code.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC, the film's cheap look is unfortunately accentuated by the natural characteristics of a modern HD presentation. The film has a level of clarity that is both accurate to the source and helps the film have a tactile, small-scale feeling. Colors are brightly saturated, and there are no signs of compression issues. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that sounds quite good, with some nice directional effects during the movie's climactic shootout. Sometimes, the mixing has the same cheap sensation to it, but as with the picture, this is inherent to the production and not a fault of the disc.
English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are included.
The UK Blu-ray of War on Everyone offers an audio commentary by McDonagh, interviews, a featurette,
and some sort of material from the premiere, but most of that has been thrown out for Lionsgate's domestic release. All this disc offers is the run-of-the-mill featurette "Everyone Sounds Off: The Quirky Cast of War on Everyone", which features the usual array of talking heads and footage from the film.
As a fan of McDonagh's previous work, War on Everyone is a pretty big disappointment, offering up reheated versions of material he's done much better with before. Skip it.
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