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War On Everyone: More bangs for your buck as buddy movie takes a dark turn

Published 07/10/2016

Criminal intent: Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard in War On Everyone. Photo: PA Photo/Icon
Criminal intent: Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard in War On Everyone. Photo: PA Photo/Icon

Director John Michael McDonagh has never really been one for self-censorship, and he isn't about to start now. Gemma Dunn ducks under police tape to get the facts on his latest buddy US cop movie, War On Everyone.

He's known for humouring amoral authority in offbeat films The Guard and Calvary, and UK writer-director John Michael McDonagh's third film, War On Everyone, is undoubtedly cut from the same cloth.

"When I was asked at Q&As for Calvary about the projects I was developing, I said that it was, 'The French Connection meets [1941 comedy] Hellzapoppin'," the 49-year-old says of the crime caper.

"I was only being partly facetious," he adds, eyes glinting. "War On Everyone is a buddy-buddy black comedy with a Seventies feel to it, outlandish visual and verbal humour, left-field narrative turns, and the music of Glen Campbell."

Crossing the globe to New Mexico, the picture follows two corrupt cops - Terry and Bob, played by Alexander Skarsgard (Tarzan) and Michael Pena (Ant-Man) respectively - as they set out to blackmail and frame every criminal unfortunate enough to cross their path.

Things take a sinister turn, however, when they try to intimidate someone 'supposedly' more dangerous than they are.

War On Everyone has a different dynamic to McDonagh's previous films, which he says were directed in a "measured, contemplative style, relevant to the subject matter".

In comparison, this film is one of "quick-paced scenes, followed by calm, contemplative moments," notes the film-maker.

"They go back and forth, so there's comedy and then darkness, and then there's more comedy, and then real darkness."

Much like all his movies, however, War On Everyone opens with a big scene.

"I hate those films where they start with credits over a helicopter shot of Chicago. Why do we have to look at Chicago?" he asks, incredulously.

"It's like; can't you just get the actor on to say something? Start with a bang? So I always do it that way." Filmed on location in New Mexico, McDonagh was enticed by its population mix, urban locations and lingering spirit of Seventies Americana.

"It's a contemporary western, in a sense, so the story was always intended to be set in either Texas or New Mexico," McDonagh says of his decision to not pick the US. "[But] the tax breaks available in New Mexico intrigued me more than the tax breaks available in Texas."

Conquering such a vast terrain meant the director could turn the volume up to 10.

As the producer Chris Clark has noted: "In the UK, it doesn't feel right to do that. There, you're in a bigger, vaster world, so it works perfectly."

It also made for a sizzling six-week shoot, with 6ft 4in Skarsgard struggling in a three-piece suit in the desert: "I'm from Sweden... I don't do well in heat," the 40-year-old says, laughing.

The actor admits playing alcoholic cop Terry was an interesting challenge. "He's either tipsy or s***faced or somewhere in between, and it's the nuance of that and going through the script and deciding, 'Alright, what time did he start this morning? Where are we now? How drunk are we now?'"

Skarsgard, who rose to fame in the vampire TV series True Blood, got plenty of practice, however, as it turns out McDonagh has a novel way of deciding whether an actor is right for his movies - and it involves a trip to the pub.

"Usually I cast someone and then I meet them and they think it's just a meeting, but it's to see if they drink heavily or not," the film-maker confesses, with a chuckle.

"If they do, then they've got the job."

As for the War On Everyone cast, he divulges, "Michael [Pena] gets really boozed after three bottles, so he keeps it on an even keel, and Alex was actually finishing up Tarzan and he had to keep to a strict diet, so it was about three weeks into the movie before he really got hammered and let loose."

"There's actually a scene in the movie where he's really hungover," McDonagh dishes.

"They're in the strip club and he's hunched over the bar, [but] he never says anything, which is lucky, because he could barely speak."

With no one person or subject free from McDonagh's wit, Pena, (40), reflects on the film's title, reasoning: "It really is a War On Everyone. F*** 'em. F*** everyone."

Skarsgard confesses that, while it was nice to read something so out there and un-PC, he still felt "the heart was in the right place."

And Pena agrees: "If you know McDonagh's work, you know that he's going to push the envelope."

  • War On Everyone is in cinemas now

Belfast Telegraph

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