Tuesday, 29 November 2016

War On Everyone (2016) - Movie Review

The plot: Detectives Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Peña) make a healthy living in their work, something helped by the fact that they end up extort and frame pretty much every criminal they come into contact with. However, once they start investigating a robbery and find connections to "legitimate businessman" James Mangan (Theo James), it seems that they may have found someone that even they can’t get to comply.

The cast here is good, if rather odd in their performances. It’s rather telling when Skarsgård looks and acts more like Tarzan here than he did in the actual Tarzan film he was in. Aside from his gorilla-like stances, he’s actually pretty good as the sort of douchebag with a heart of sickly gold. Opposite him, Peña matches him pretty much beat for beat in that regard, effectively ticking the main box for any respectable buddy cop film; that being a main duo that we wouldn’t mind watching for an hour-and-a-half. James is surprisingly fun as the main villain, channelling the kind of poncy arsehole that he hasn’t utilised since The Inbetweeners Movie; given his current work concerning YA trash, this is a welcome return.

Malcolm Barrett as informant Reggie does well next to our leads, but not nearly as well as David Wilmot as the gloriously Irish man-of-many-maladies Pádraic, who steals every single scene he’s in for the better. And then there’s Caleb Landry Jones as Mangan’s right-hand man Birdwell… and I am at a total loss for words. If this role was filled in by Tommy Wiseau, it would somehow be less awkward, although it wouldn’t have been quite as captivating as this because this might be the single weirdest performance I’ve seen all year. Yes, even more so than Guy LaPointe; at least he had some form of method behind the oddity.

For a buddy cop film, this plays the genre’s many iconic tropes relatively straight and it all starts with our respective cops. An old-school convention is to assign character quirks in order to easily tell them apart (you know, aside from their character names and actors because most people apparently don’t pay attention to those). Here, we have Terry who is a big fan of Glen Campbell music, which in turn informs a large amount of the soundtrack, and Bob whom I’m guessing did a beginner’s philosophy course at some point prior to the film’s events because a lot of his more leisurely dialogue involves philosophical musings. You know, the same stuff that crops up when someone discovers the Allegory of the Cave for the first time.

Now, not that it comes across as all that pretentious in how its presented; rather, it’s actually presented quite naturally, which is a testament both to John Michael McDonagh’s scripting and Peña’s acting chops. This strict adherence applies to the soundtrack as well which, aside from Mr. Campbell, involves a lot of punchy guitars and triumphant horns to accentuate the action. Said action follows the usual blueprint scene-by-scene: Interviewing suspects/informants, stake-outs, getting chewed up by the boss, right up to the climactic shootout.

So, if the genre is being conveyed this plainly, then why the hell is this as funny as it is? Well, maybe it’s because this certainly has a different approach to how it portrays the police force; in that, this might one of the most cynical cop films we’ve seen in years. It basically plays into modern expectations of the American boys in blue, depicted here as loud-mouthed, drugged-up and prejudicial arseholes who are less protecting us than serving themselves. Last time I remember there being a film that went down this route, it was the recent adaptation of UK cop show The Sweeney, but even then we were supposed to sympathise and cheer on those morons.

Here, they’re very clearly in on the joke that these guys are awful people. Now, in today’s social climate, actively laughing with the sort of police personnel that we regularly campaign against may seem a little too far, but quite frankly, this becomes funny because of recent events. In light of a long-winded political rant, I’ll just say that the best way to deal with real-world woes is to turn it into comedy and this film has taken hold of that mentality with both hands.

Or, at least, for the most part and it’s here where the cracks begin to show. The film is largely a story of complete scumbags interact with and beat the hell out of other scumbags, and within that mode the film is quite fun. This is helped by how said scumbags occasionally reach the level of walking mindfrag like with Birdwell and Pádraic, heightening the sense that this is clearly something that is dirty and weird on purpose. But then it tries to make us feel for the characters, particularly the detectives, and it just plain doesn’t work.

Sure, some of the characters are alright at trying to raise the empathy levels, mainly Tessa Thompson as Terry’s girlfriend, but when it comes to making us sympathise with the kind of people that would knock out a person’s eye with their bare fists, it’s pretty misguided. The absolute worst part in that regard is the finale, where it brings certain connections between this and The Nice Guys (read: observations about porn) to an uncomfortable and disjointedly dark conclusion involving children. Yeah. After doing so much to shock us and rub against the grain, its attempts to bring us back onside only serve to make the situation harder to agree with.

All in all, as a film meant to satirise and poke fun at the modern state of U.S. policemen, it works surprisingly well and is remarkably funny to boot. This is buoyed by good performances, some of which venture into the point of sheer lunacy in the best way possible, and a script that knows well enough to keep things tonally consistent… and then it tries to make us take it seriously, which is where the fun begins to sap away. I had a lot of fun with this one but, knowing how drastic a face turn it made, I can’t help but think that this could have been better.

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