War on Everyone marks writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s return to the black-comic cop genre intrigue of his debut feature, The Guard. If anything, Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) — yes, kind of like the Chilean author — outdo the earlier film’s Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) in corruption, both of them showing no compunction in beating up suspects, stealing evidence, and consuming illicit drugs.
In other hands, War on Everyone might have added up to little more than a mean-spirited wallow in misanthropy. But McDonagh brings the same kind of humane attention to character detail that animated both The Guard and, especially, his follow-up, the spiritually minded Calvary. Terry and Bob may not have much of a moral compass when it comes to law enforcement, but audiences might find something redemptive in the duo’s loyalty to each other and to their (actual and surrogate) families.
Mostly, though, War on Everyone is an excuse for McDonagh to let fly with as many comic quips as he can muster. The crime plot — something to do with monetary theft, double-crossing and eventually a child-pornography ring — matters less than his characters’ gleeful airing of highbrow and lowbrow cultural references. Here, Terry’s love of Glen Campbell coexists with unexpected shout-outs to Simone de Beauvoir, Sergei Diaghilev, and Yukio Mishima. Much of it feels inconsequential compared to his previous films, but McDonagh’s unflagging anarchic energy keeps it juicily diverting in the moment.
War on Everyone
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh
Opens February 3, Cinema Village