Talking Movies

October 6, 2016

War on Everyone

John Michael McDonagh’s third film as writer/director attempts to mash up the concerns of his first two films, The Guard and Calvary, with intermittent success.

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Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) is rarely sober. His work buddy Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) is rarely polite. But that doesn’t matter because they literally have a get out of jail free card, they’re cops. But they won’t be cops for much longer if Lt. Stanton (Paul Reiser) doesn’t see them rein in the lunacy. Dialling down the public drunkenness and excessive force is a huge ask when Terry and Bob stumble, via their CI Reggie (Malcolm Barrett), onto a complicated heist. Dazzled by the prospect of acquiring riches; and on Terry’s part, Jackie (Tessa Thompson), a moll at a loose end; the dirty duo unwittingly put themselves in the bad books with an unlikely mastermind after one beating a suspect mercilessly too far. Lord James Mangan (Theo James) is the nemesis fate has set up for these cheerfully corrupt detectives.

War on Everyone does not live up to the high expectations held for it as while it features any number of hilarious lines and ideas it never truly gels. It doesn’t rattle along like an absurdist procedural with philosophical tangents, but it isn’t an episodic tale in service of a larger philosophical meditation either, so it falls between the two stools of The Guard and Calvary. Lorne Balfe’s score is heroically in thrall to 1970s brass, funk and bombast, while Terry’s preoccupation with Glen Campbell finds full tuneful fulfilment on the soundtrack. The New Mexico locations are strikingly captured by Oren Moverman’s regular cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, a highlight being a distant tracking shot capturing Skarsgard chasing a perp. And in a delirious scripting touch Terry’s constant outrageous drinking is shown wreaking havoc on his memory and his ability to work.

War on Everyone is a memorable film, not a great one, but a patchwork that uses to the full its licence to offend is preferable to any cookie-cutter banality.

3.5/5

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August 5, 2014

God’s Pocket

John Slattery, aka Mad Men’s existentialist hero Roger Sterling, makes his directorial debut with an only intermittently successful black comedy.

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God’s Pocket, New York City is a close-knit working-class community where everyone is one step away from a mobster, even the elderly florist. Blow-in Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) helps out fellow butcher Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (John Turturro) in stealing some frozen meat to help pay off Bird’s 20k debt to local kingpin Sal Cappi (Domenick Lombardozzi). However, marriage to the lovely Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) comes at the price of Mickey being lumbered with her crazy son Leon (Caleb Landry-Jones). When Leon dies in a ‘workplace accident’, Jeanie insists that Mickey investigate who killed him, undertaker Smilin’ Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan) refuses to bury him unless he gets 5k in cash up-front, and a bad decision on horse-racing with the money from a whip-around puts Mickey on thin ice when celebrated newspaper columnist Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins) starts courting Jeanie.

God’s Pocket is a period film that doesn’t bother to tell you that it’s a period film. Apparently it’s set in 1978. The only way you’d know that it’s not set right now is that everyone physically reads and reveres newspaper columnist Shelburn. But even in 1978 it plays as pure fantasy that Sophia Takal’s attractive college journalism major would sleep with Shelburn so that she could watch as he writes his column. Director Slattery co-wrote this adaptation of Pete (The Paperboy) Dexter’s novel, but its tone is deeply uncertain. There is an eye-gouging of Mountain & Viper calibre, and yet it leads directly to a scene of deliriously deadpan black comedy; whose laughs feel gimmicky because this film is not light enough on its feet or dry enough to truly be a black comedy. Instead it’s half a drama.

The best example of how black comedy is deflated by a striving for bogus dramatic weightiness is a scene where Leon’s dead body is accidentally hijacked. Slattery emulates Spielberg’s wildly misguided Munich finale, with a juxtaposition of Mickey being cuckolded and Mickey falling and failing in his attempt to redeem himself. My interest turned to how Slattery had thrown a dragnet over TV bit-players for his casting (the guy who shot Bell in Elementary, the psychiatrist from Bionic Woman, the S&M cop from Bored to Death). And it has to be regretfully noted that Landry-Jones follows his awful, mannered turn in Byzantium with a performance so deranged that you can’t believe Leon would ever be hired anywhere for the simplest job; he is simply the character from an Agatha Christie novel who repulses and alienates everyone before getting bumped off.

God’s Pocket sees Hoffman and Turturro do their best with a confused script, but it’s hard to know what exactly Slattery was trying to do – make a rambunctious black comedy or a gritty drama?

2.5/5

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