War On Everyone (2016)

First published by Real Crime

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, single alcoholic Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and family man Bob Balaño (Michael Peña) are a pair of police detectives who have long since broken bad.

Robbing from the criminal and giving to themselves, they pay practically no heed to the law, although they do have their own tacit code, which involves shaking down felons only, punishing paedophile abuse, and not committing acts of murder – although they are certainly up for killing if the circumstances are right. As they become embroiled with entitled English pornographer/postmodern villain James Mangan (Theo James), they finally find something for which they are willing to take a stand.

Shot in elegant, painterly wide frames by DP Bobby Bukowski, War On Everyone is, like writer/director John Michael McDonagh’s first film The Guard (2011), an arch update on the oater genre. Here again, the questionable heroics come from an outlaw constabulary finding their way through a corrupted world, as they try to create that cornerstone of civilisation, “an ordinary, everyday nuclear family” – only from strippers, runaways, bag men and transgendered Icelanders.

When Terry announces, “It’s alright, we’re the good guys,” viewers may find his reassurances unconvincing – not least because we have already seen him running over mime artists, beating suspects, and snorting the cocaine that he stole from offenders. Still, McDonagh keeps us onside with hilariously sharp dialogue and characterisation always skewed towards the unexpected.

That the climactic showdown takes place on an actual film stage serves to underline War On Everyone‘s self-consciously cinematic status – but unlike Tarantino, McDonagh draws as much from mythological and philosophical writings as from genre films. The results are a supersmart existential crime comedy.

© Anton Bitel