Writer/director John Michael McDonagh dazzled with his first two movies – The Guard and Calvary, both set in Ireland – but his relocation to New Mexico for the nihilistic War On Everyone has resulted in a decidedly botched end-product. It’s a bit like one of those budget boxes of fireworks you buy cheap after November 5th – sure, there are some stunning pyrotechnics in the box, but there’re also a lot of damp squibs and even a few complete duds.
Bob and Terry (in what may or may not be a knowing nod to The Likely Lads) are a pair of corrupt cops, careering gleefully around their home town, taking bribes, sharing class A drugs with their perps and mercilessly beating up anybody who stands in their way. Much of this is presented as knockabout comedy, though most of it is very hard to laugh at. Bob (Michael Pena) appears to be the brains of the operation, a man as likely to start discussing philosophy in the course of his duties, as he is to read the Miranda rights. Terry (Alexander Skarsgard) is a hulking boy child who idolises Bob and doesn’t have much in his life, other than an addiction to the songs of Glenn Campbell and a complete belief in his partner’s genius. When the two men are sent to investigate a stabbing, they start to uncover a high-level crime syndicate, headed up by the suave and cultured Lord James Mangan (Theo James, channelling a young Rupert Everett). Much blood, gunfire and reckless driving ensues…
This is a film that will inevitably divide audiences. It’s true that there are inspired moments here – a scene where the two cops stand over a stabbed man, while his wife sobs helplessly in the background, yet somehow can’t stop themselves from eating burgers is brilliant; likewise the scene where Terry waltzes new girlfriend, Jackie (Tessa Thompson) around his empty flat to the strains of Rhinestone Cowboy is an unexpected joy amidst all the senseless violence and destruction – but for every scene that impresses, there’s also an artless collection of ‘jokes’ about Islam, gays, blacks and women, that are so stunningly inappropriate that it beggars belief – it’s as though McDonagh is trying so hard to be ‘cool’ that he’s lost all sense of quality control and, overall, the film suffers for his woeful lack of insight.
This is a shame because there are enough excellent moments here to convince you that the film could have been superb, if only McDonagh had managed to rein in some of its baser elements. As it stands, this can only be described as a great big missed opportunity.