The Movie Waffler New Release Review - WAR ON EVERYONE | The Movie Waffler


New Release Review - WAR ON EVERYONE

A pair of crooked New Mexico cops indulge in a variety of bad behaviour.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: John Michael McDonagh

Starring: Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgard, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Stephanie Sigman, Paul Reiser, Caleb Landry Jones

War on Everyone purports to be a comedy, but it's not laughing at its evil protagonists so much as with them, and its idea of edgy humour is to simply remark on the race, religion, gender politics or body image of every character it introduces.

Usually, whenever I come out of a screening of a particularly awful movie I have to consult my notes to see just how close to the bottom of that year's list of cinematic offerings it will reside. In the case of John Michael McDonagh's first foray into US-set drama, War on Everyone, no such consultation was necessary. I knew long before the credits rolled that this was easily the worst piece of excrement I had the misfortune to endure in 2016.

It would likely take a far more talented writer than yours truly to fully convey how terrible War on Everyone is, though it really has to be seen to be believed. Think mid-80s Robert Altman - a lot of very talented people conspiring to kill their careers by producing a work that suggests all involved were under the influence of Class A drugs - and add liberal doses of racism, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, Islamophobia and practically every other type of bigotry you could possibly conceive of.

Summarising the plot would be futile; the movie is simply an excuse to have two corrupt cops (Alexander Skarsgard and Michael Pena; what a waste!) indulge in all manner of nasty behaviour. Considering the recent headlines from the US concerning the boys in blue, War on Everyone should be prescient, but it's not remotely interested in any sort of nuanced critique of police corruption.

The movie purports to be a comedy, but it's not laughing at its evil protagonists so much as with them, and its idea of edgy humour is to simply remark on the race, religion, gender politics or body image of every character it introduces. Here are a few examples of its mean-spirited sight 'gags' - two women play tennis clad in burkas ("it's funny cos they're Muslims!"); an overweight kid flays about in a swimming pool ("it's funny cos he's fat!"); the romantic partner of a tough black Muslim is revealed to be a transsexual ("it's funny cos it's a woman with a dick!"); and most anger-inducing of all - a bizarre cut to a close-up of a young Down's Syndrome man ("It's funny cos he's not like us!"). And of course there's a scene in which a little person is the butt of a joke, because both McDonagh and his brother Martin seem to find little people hilarious.

This is the sort of hate-filled non-humour you might expect to find in a British comedy from the '60s, or an American one from the '80s (some gags appear to have been lifted straight from Police Academy). It's deeply depressing that we're still being presented with this regressive filth in 2016, and anger-inducing that many of the sociopaths in my audience found it absolutely side-splitting.

Perhaps the most egregious moment comes when, after making his protagonists so unlikeable throughout the film, the only way McDonagh can redeem them is to expose the film's antagonist, a stereotypical British tweed-wearing toff (Theo James), as a paedophile. Immediately after hitting us with this bad taste revelation, the movie cuts to said villain in bed with another man, as if to suggest there's some correlation between homosexuality and paedophilia. Vile.

I have to give McDonagh the benefit of the doubt and assume he doesn't actually believe such harmful nonsense, that he merely doesn't understand how cinema works, how the images you connect in the editing suite form connections in the mind of the viewer. There's enough bad filmmaking throughout War on Everyone to back up this assumption. Like so many filmmakers lacking original ideas, McDonagh fills his movie with pointless slo-mo (often of Tessa Thompson bouncing around in hot pants; who says there are no good roles for women?), ironic use of music (thanks for ruining Glen Campbell for me!), and camera tricks ripped off from filmmakers who possess genuine talent (a nod to Wong Kar Wai is downright embarrassing).

On almost every technical level, War on Everyone is an ugly movie, but its true unpleasantness comes from its misanthropic attitude. It's a movie only a 12-year-old school bully could love, and the world is a little worse for its existence. Perhaps in 30 years time we'll look back on McDonagh's film and reevaluate it as a crucial document of the year Trump came to power. "They didn't know any better back then," we'll say. Maybe we'll be right.

War on Everyone is in cinemas now.