Wednesday, 19 October 2016

War on Everyone; don't let the McDonaghs out without Brendan Gleeson

Let’s tally this up. 

Martin McDonagh; In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths

John Michael McDonagh; The Guard, Calvary, War on Everyone

In Bruges and The Guard are both pretty good, and I can make an argument for Calvary. Seven Psychopaths and War on Everyone are pretty terrible; sprawling messes which keep winking out at the camera while wasting decent casts and going nowhere.

And it’s tempting to say that the problem is that they’re set in America and the McDonaghs only think they understand America. I think the problem is more personal. The problem is that there’s no Brendan Gleeson. And it’s not that I miss his ability to take the McDonaghs’ writing and make it sound like something which occurred to him in the moment. It’s that I think Brendan Gleeson is the only person who can pick up a McDonagh script and bitch-slap either brother across the face with it, bellowing “Do yis not get it? Yis can’t just type this crap and pray that I’m going to make it sing. Go away back to the pub and find another beermat. This is shite, and I’m not going to try to make it work."

Absent their profane muse, there’s nothing to make the McDonaghs skulk back to their lairs and get the damn thing right. They seem to have just enough moxie - or be just cheap enough - to keep the producers off their backs, and they head out to the location and bash out whatever the hell they feel like, in the apparent hope that the actors will save it, or the editors, or at the last ditch the audience’s affectionate memory of the stuff they did get right. Or maybe they just don’t care. Maybe they really think this stuff is golden.

Guys, it’s really not. I could have gone to the latest Mel Gibson movie, which I figured would be reliably stupid. I could have gone to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Tim Burton Grotesques, except I’m tired of watching Eva Green waste her talent. I went to War on Everyone in the same way that I slow down when I’m passing a car crash; I know this is going to be not good, but I can’t help wanting to know what way it’s going to be not good.

Paul Reiser is in it. He’s playing cop thriller stock character number 374, the long suffering lieutenant reining in his loose cannons, and yet somehow McDonagh couldn’t figure out a way to drag in an Aliens reference. Would it have been SO hard to work in “It was a bad call…”? Apparently. 

Doing most of the heavy lifting; Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard [1] as Bob and Terry, hopefully the most corrupt and unpleasant cops in Albuquerque, because man, you’d hate to think there was anyone worse on the payroll. I have a feeling they seemed funny as hell at three in the morning, but here in Ireland we don’t open the cinemas at three in the morning. Even if we did, it may not be legal to get the audience into the pharmacological state that would make Bob and Terry fun to be with. These are not likeable arseholes, and let’s face it, it’s not that hard to find unlikeable arseholes just by going to work in normal Dublin traffic. You’ll make your quota by lunchtime; you don’t need to go to the cinema.

Mostly, War on Everyone feels like they shot the first draft and had no money for reshoots and rewrites. “Let’s go to Iceland!” was not greeted with “In the name of God, WHY?” but with “Well, I guess.”  I dunno. Maybe McDonagh had never been to Iceland, and fancied doing it with someone else’s money. It’s pricey to visit; you can see why you’d use someone else’s money. What I couldn’t see is how it made sense to bring the narrative to a screeching halt to make it happen.

The most frustrating thing is that there are plenty of good moments. Skarsgard perfectly sells “You should see the other guy. Totally unscathed.” It’s far too consciously witty to work, and somehow it does anyhow. When people can do that, it really kills me that they can’t keep it up.


[1] I am way too lazy to try to figure out how to do the diacritical mark over the second “a”. Don’t even.

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