A film review by Craig J. Koban October 17, 2012
2012, R, 109 mins.
2012, R, 109 mins.
Marty: Colin Farrell /
Billy: Sam Rockwell /
Hans: Christopher Walken /
Charlie: Woody Harrelson /
Zachariah: Tom Waits
are indeed seven psychopaths of varying degrees of worthlessness and
insanity in Martin McDonagh’s SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, his follow-up to his
first feature film, 2008’s IN BRUGES.
For his sophomore effort, McDonagh spins a kinetic, brutally
violent, macabre and darkly amusing gangster picture that also manages to
be a sly and subversive commentary on the types of genre pictures that his
very film is trying to be associated with. It
certainly contains all of the requisite traits of most demented
crazed-killer fiction, but the fact that McDonagh gleefully riffs on movie
violence and storytelling conceits at the same time is the film’s real
coup de grace.
he demonstrated with his remarkable IN BRUGES (one of the great first
films by a director in many a moon, which also made my list of 2008’s
Ten Best Films), the Irish playwright turned film writer/director shows
that he has more up his sleeve than immediately meets the eye in SEVEN
PSYCHOPATHS. The title alone – what a beauty! – definitely promises to
explore a series of degenerate human beings and wanton death, bloodshed,
and carnage (which we do get), but McDonagh frames those stock elements
around a clever dissection of the best and worst aspects of these types of
films, almost serving as the audience’s questioning voice of reason.
McDonagh even has a character that’s a struggling screenwriter trying
to come up with the next great film idea, who I think is a stand-in for
himself and the types of frustrations that he’s experienced with
writer’s block. This allows
McDonagh’s voice to be a real presence in the film.
film opens with a wonderful scene of playful and irreverent dialogue
between two apparent hitmen (played by Michael Pitt and A
wonderful Michael Stuhlbarg), who engage in a playful discussion about
what it’s like to shoot a person through the eyeball (much like PULP
FICTION, these hitmen actually have interesting and flavorful
exchanges that just don’t advance the plot). McDonagh establishes these two as potential main characters and then cheerfully disposes of them as a masked killer walks up right
behind them as they bicker and blows their brains out.
Meet "psychopath number one", the “Jack of Diamond Killer”,
given that name
because of his penchant for leaving playing cards on his victims.
at this point that the film segues to the McDonagh stand-in persona, Marty
(Colin Farrell, who was also in the director’s IN BRUGES), who is a
struggling screenwriter and chronic boozer that’s trying to write his
very own movie called SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, but all he has is…the title. Well, he does have an
idea…he wants it to be a pacifist story about psychos.
Marty’s BFF, an out-of-work actor named Billy (Sam Rockwell, in
pure zany loose-cannon mode) wants to assist Marty, but his ideas strain
far away from being pacifistic. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that he’s a
dog-thief on the side to make a living.
Along with his partner, Hans (Christopher Walken), the two dognap
pooches and then return them to their owners for a big reward.
Billy is a nutjob, Hans at least is a more soulful one who seems to have a
motive for stealing for cash (his wife is cancer stricken and could die
and both of them have been through a hellish ordeal in the past that has
tainted them forever). One
day Billy and Hans snatch a little Shih Tzu that they hope will lead to
another score, but this dog just happens to be owned by a very, very, very
protective gangster named Charlie (Woody Harrelson) that will put a bullet
into anyone or anything to get the primary love of his life back (you’d
figure that a mob man would have a Doberman or a Pit-bull, but never
mind). This, of course, puts
Marty, Billy, and Hans in danger, with Marty being the one in over his
head…although he gets some great material for his script along the way.
have lamented for years that there have been countless knockoffs of PULP
FICTION and Tarantino-ian dialogue that have tried to duplicate his
lightning in a bottle aesthetic to largely mediocre results.
I feel with IN BRUGES and now SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS that McDonagh
has arguably come the closest to matching Tarantino at his own game.
Like Tarantino’s film landscape, McDonagh relishes in making his
slimeball characters perversely endearing and likeable, but he further
submerges them within a sandbox of reflective showbiz satire.
A lot of SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS feels like a conglomeration of the best
aspects of the lurid hilarity of Tarantino, the far-out eccentricities of
Charlie Kaufman, and the rat-ta-tat back and forth dialogue of an Aaron Sorkin.
has masterful fun with traversing between reality, fantasy, and self-aware
commentary on the movies here.
Many times, the characters engage in discussions about the worst
clichés and conventions of violence-heavy mob-fiction, like, for example,
how women are poorly written and are easily disposed of (McDonagh
actually disposes of two poorly developed female characters within the
film while the film characters discuss screenwriter sexism that plagues
modern films). Many of the
people that occupy SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS are indeed nutty and without redemption,
but McDonagh gives many of them an opportunity to contribute ideas to
Marty’s film within the film, often to hilarious results.
For example, when Marty wants his script to have an atypical ending
(no shootouts or bloodshed, just his characters camping in the desert and
talking), Billy hates that idea. So, he offers up his own wild and carnage-filled conclusion
(which is shown in a hysterically over-the-top fantasy sequence).
Oh…by the way…Billy relays this while he, Marty, and Hans are
camping in the desert.
compliment the sinfully acerbic and colorful dialogue, McDonagh gets
great mileage from his cast. Farrell
is essentially the straight man here, even though he plays a drunken Irish
stereotype (one that McDonagh and his character acknowledge).
Rockwell counterbalances Farrell’s subdued work playing a
completely unhinged loon that relishes in grandiose – and often idiotic
– musings on any subject (his criticism of Gandhi's “eye for an eye
makes the whole world blind” ideology is an uproarious highlight).
And, is there any actor better than Harrelson at playing easily
charming, but homicidal redneck trailer trash?
Charlie a murdering thug that kills without warning, but…dang
it…he still loves his adorable dog.
are two performance stand-outs, the first being the great Tom Waits who
shows up at Marty’s door one day after Billy puts an ad in the paper
requesting real psychos to come to Marty and help him with his script.
Turns out that Wait’s bunny stroking (no…seriously) sicko is a
serial killer of serial killers; Waits is kind of sinisterly tender
recounting his tale of love and murder to the amazed Marty.
Then…yup…there’s Walken, who lately has used his own peculiar
brand of creepiness to elicit unintentional hearty laughs, but here he
uses his ethereal strangeness to delicately evoke an intriguing and oddly
sympathetic character with a dark and mysterious past.
He’s has not been this crazy good in a film in a decade, and if
you need proof just consider the scene where he confronts Harrelson’s
mobster in a hospital waiting room where Walken comes off as scarily
unhinged just with mild glances and a twisted smile.
I find myself willfully submitting to McDonagh’s work so easily, perhaps because his films are not just about obligatory action, bloodletting, and chaos. He mixes deliriously daffy characters with an inventive and witty script that weaves in and out of reality, fiction and meta-fiction with a swift and assured hand while exposing the weaker and more tired aspects of genre films. In the end, I found this conglomeration of unhinged violence, non-linear storytelling, black comedy, and movie industry satire to be endlessly alluring. McDonagh may be a Tarantino-clone, but he’s the best one around today.