War on Everyone – Berlinale Special
My fourth and last outing at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival was at the same time the very last screening of it… and what a screening! War on Everyone exceeded all expectations considering it is a mostly unknown buddy cop movie. The film by John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Ned Kelly) is a hilarious, politically incorrect, brutal and weird movie with Michael Peña (Fury) and Alexander Skarsgård (Melancholia) in the lead.
Hothead Terry Monroe (Skarsgård) and his family man colleague Bob Bolaño (Peña)are cops in Albuquerque, NM. With multiple warnings, chided by their boss and lots of dirty tricks up their sleeves, they roam the streets of New Mexico, tricking criminals, taking bribes and forging evidence. During the course of an investigation, they enlist Reggie (Malcom Barret) as an informant to uncover a planned robbery. Doing so they mess with the wrong man, someone more dangerous than everyone involved combined, a British Lord and criminal mastermind (Theo James). Terry also takes in young Jackie (Tessa Thompson) for protection, and falls in love with her. The two also save a kid, who witnessed a murder and knows who was involved in the robbery… but the underworld strikes back, and danger strikes a little bit too close to Bob and his wife’s (Stephanie Sigman) home. A suspension then ends their reign as officers…. time to get down and dirty…..
“Tougher than Starsky and Hutch, funnier than Laurel and Hardy, better looking than Siegfried and Roy.” (Berlinale.de)
To the backdrop of the bleak New Mexico scenery (some locations might be familiar from Breaking Bad), a reign of chaos unfolds. John Michael McDonagh doesn’t hold back, ditches all conventions (but maintains a range of clichees) and in War on Everyone creates a little buddy comedy with tons of tongue-in-cheek humor, small and big laughs, full of pop cultural references, exaggerations, style, cool music and great dialogue. I am not sure however if it will be easy to sell it. On the plus side, the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and the fireworks of dialogue and action from the first 20 Minutes are more or less sustained at that level for another 70 Minutes. There are kills. There are ridiculous one liners. There is booze and blow. It’s not ideal to make the comparison with the luke warm Starsky and Hutch crap with Owen Wilson, the movie reminds more of End of Watch (also with Pena), but this time as a sinister satire on the genre, and a cynical view of cops off the chain and on the loose.
It is the great Pena show. His character’s name is Roberto Bolaño, a celebrated Chilenian novelist, quite fitting because Bob in the movie quotes intellectuals and posits as a pseudo-substance counterpart to the mostly unemotional Terry, who hasn’t quite found his place in the world, until he starts getting family feelings meeting Jackie and their little star witness. Pena and Skarsgard pull out all the stops, they can really go wild. The dialogue is razor sharp, raw and funny. There is lots of reasons to rewatch the movie. Visually as well, the movie has a lot to offer despite the boring locations. The movie takes place in today’s Albuquerque but the two drive vintage cars and the world through which they venture is a stylized nightlife and asphalt jungle in all its facets. Plus there is a first rate soundtrack that rocks and contributes to the wonderful overall weird picture.
The auditorium was full of laughter, because the movie is full of un-PC jokes, raw humor and crazy moments, lots of attitude and a crazy series of events that frame the main plot. The movie is a lot of fun, I think the most fun with two cops since Lethal Weapon. At the same time, the movie can uphold its medium budget indie charms. Previous movies from the director were described as strange and unique, and we can be happy that he one-ups those. The movie is not ironed out by studios, it is wild and daring. Of course it ain’t no cineast masterpiece, it doesn’t have the depth and impact of End of Watch, and I bet it won’t have the cultural lasting effect of Lethal Weapon, or even, just to drop that name once more, Starsky and Hutch. But I can imagine spending more time with adventures by these two weird dudes. The two beautiful ladies Thompson (Selma) and Sigman (wasted in Spectre, but she was great in Miss Bala) are a great addition to the two main protagonists and perform extraordinarily. Thus we end up with an all around great movie which I want to attach the 2016 insider’s tip badge. At the least, I do wanna see it again soon. War on Everyone manages to entertain.
That’s it from this year’s Berlinale (three other reviews were only published on our German-language sister site Nischenkino.de).