Release Date: 5th December 2012
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson
Seven Psychopaths is the second film written and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, the follow-up to the much-lauded In Bruges, also a personal favourite of yours truly. The two films have a lot in common, namely the biting (and frequently coarse) dialogue, the abundance of psychotic individuals, and Colin Farrell proving he’s much better than the crap he’s often seen in. But in terms of the tone and structure of the two films, they differ tremendously: In Bruges was carefully constructed around a select few characters, blending absurd comedy and the darkest drama into a highly emotional climax; Seven Psychopaths is positively breezy in comparison, a near-cartoon reality with a mess of characters who often only last a scene or two before dying in some gruesome fashion.
Marty (Farrell) is an Irish screenwriter toiling over his new script entitled Seven Psychopaths, which currently lacks any characters except a ‘Buddhist/Amish/Quaker psychopath’. He wants to write something original and romantic, whereas his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) insists on the guns, girls and explosions that these films always have. Billy, along with his friend Hans (Christopher Walken), kidnaps dogs to claim the reward, and Marty is dragged deeper into their world when they steal the Shih Tzu of gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). While horrified, Marty finds enough inspiration to begin building his stable of psychopaths, which also includes the mysterious Jack O’Diamonds serial killer who seems to be influencing many of the film’s events.
People who enjoyed In Bruges are likely to enjoy this one too; how much they enjoy it depends on what they liked the most from McDonagh’s debut. The audience enamoured with his comedy skills will be greatly amused as the film is terrifically funny. One sequence sees the trio imagine a ridiculously violent shootout; it’s possibly the peak of the film, but Seven Psychopaths, like Marty’s fictional script, is not really about violent spectacle, but more a reflection and deconstruction of the genre itself. Marty states that he’d love to see an action film where the plot drops off halfway through and the characters just spend the third act camping in the desert; this inevitably happens, as do many offhand comments regarding film clichés, but there’s enough wit in McDonagh’s self-reflection that it never really seems tired.
The dramic side of the film is where it falters a little. When somebody died in In Bruges, it was a deeply emotional event. Death occurs so much in Seven Psychopaths that you tend not to weep over somebody being burned to death, or sliced in half, and so on. The emotional core of the film is Hans, and Walken is on Oscar-worthy form playing a man who at first seems unreasonably calm, but you soon discover he is instead at peace with the universe, having gone through much worse than what he sees coming in this kerfuffle. Rockwell is on blistering form, in a role which quickly escalates beyond simply that of the idiot friend. Harrelson is also wonderful balancing the tough-guy act with hilariously genuine affection for his stolen dog; so many villains start to appear mindlessly antagonistic as a film goes on, but you never lose sense that Costello just wants his dog back. He shares a couple of truly wonderful scenes with Hans and his wife Myra (Linda Bright Clay) that beg comparisons to many a Tarantino scene, with characters shifting power back and forth with little more than words (and a cravat). Excellent cameos are there to be found too, including Tom Waits as a regretful serial killer looking for his lost love, and Harry Dean Stanton as a mysterious figure in one of the film’s many ‘fictional’ sequences.
The film does meander somewhat, much more so than the complete vision of In Bruges, and perhaps it was a little too much to expect the same kind of focus and depth on what is more definably a comedy. You could even argue that, with Marty essentially being McDonagh’s avatar within the film, Seven Psychopaths is more like an exercise on how to build a screenplay, about an exercise on how to build a screenplay – and many other levels of meta I don’t care to get into right now. Its superficiality does detract from any vast emotional connection to a character other than Hans, but it’s still a tremendously entertaining film.