Seven Psychopaths – Review


It’s actually six, but who’s counting?

Normally, I dislike movie titles that are too simplistic or generic-sounding. This year alone we’ve had The Dictator and The Campaign, and a few films that could have been misconstrued if released in the same month (i.e., End of Watch and The Watch, or Safe and Safe House).

Seven Psychopaths is direct in its insinuation – this is a movie about a certain number of psychopaths. How they manage to meet is unclear; it’s not like there are Psychopaths Anonymous meetings (are there?). Some of them aren’t even real. They are figments of Martin Faranan’s (Colin Farrell) imagination. He’s in the process of writing a screenplay but he lacks all the characters and a story. But he’s got a great title (“Seven Psychopaths”).

Arriving the same weekend as Ben Affleck’s Argo, which involves a fake movie ruse, Psychopaths is another movie that’s trying to find a script. That’s not a knock against it; writer/director Martin McDonagh is too self-aware in what he’s trying to accomplish. The film is a moviemaking meta tale that’s also a send up to the hipster crime movies of late, while also making a profound statement about violence. That’s one way to look at it. Or, it could be about one man’s misadventures with a pair of friends that screw with the wrong mid-level mob boss (read: Psychopath No. 3)

It doesn’t take much of a leap to figure out that Martin is an alcoholic. He’s already got two strikes against him. He’s a writer and he’s Irish. His best buddy, Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), acknowledges Martin’s drinking problem and is eager to assist in writing the screenplay. He even has a great idea for psychopath. Actually, his psycho is ripped from the headlines as if it were fodder for a very special episode of Law & Order. Martin could have done the same but he was too busy finishing the drink in his hand.

If Billy were a deck of cards he wouldn’t be a full deck. He’s more than an eccentric. Billy is off-the-wall Troy Duffy loopy. He even talks to himself in a mirror. Sounds about right; his last name is Bickle after all. (For those that don’t get the reference watch Taxi Driver when you have the chance.) And for whatever reason Billy’s got issues with Martin’s latest girlfriend. Let’s just say when she leaves the room he calls her a word that rhymes with “punt.”

Christopher Walken completes the trio playing Hans, a mild-mannered, carvet-wearing gentleman, and also Billy’s partner in a dog-napping business. His cancer-stricken wife doesn’t approve of his current job, feeling that Hans would be better off making an honest living with a government job. As if there’s much difference between swindling marks in Los Angeles versus working for Uncle Sam.

The dog-napping business takes a turn for the worse when Billy takes Bonny, a Shih Tzu belonging to trigger-happy gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). Now Billy and Hans, along with Martin, find themselves wanted. All of this because, as Charlie puts it, “a beautiful f#(C)king perfect dog.” He loves that dog just as much as Buffalo Bill loved his poodle.

As for the rest of the nutcases, they aren’t central to story, instead staying along the periphery. This would include musician Tom Waits who plays Zachariah, half of an interracial psycho-killing duo who only murder other psychos. (Dexter would be proud.) When he shows up on Martin’s doorsteps, cradling a white bunny in his arms, it’s on account of Billy posting an ad in the Los Angeles Times looking for all psychopaths to volunteer and tell their stories. And boy does he have a whopper of a tale, including one episode that would make for an interesting epilogue for a certain David Fincher film.

In Martin McDonagh’s feature film debut, In Bruges, Colin Farrell played one of the eccentrics with Brendan Gleeson playing the straight man. This time Farrell is the comedic straight man; leaving Sam Rockwell to go so over the top he might as well be taking a rocket to the moon. This is nothing new for Rockwell who had his big break playing a prison loon in The Green Mile.

Hans is easily Christopher Walken’s best role in years. Here is an actor who has played more than his fair share of psychos. Who could forget his character in True Romance and that conversation he had with Dennis Hopper? Actually, that film also correlates with Martin’s character. Whereas Romance‘s Christian Slater was an embodiment of the film’s screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, Colin Farrell’s character is just Martin McDonagh going through an extreme case of writer’s block.

McDonagh is an original voice even if his films are likely going to be met with Tarantino-esque comparisons. Though, McDonagh insists that his influences cinematically are Terrence Malick and Sam Peckinpah. That’s as a filmmaker. For writing I could see where Shane Black may have inspired McDonagh. Both are talented when comes to scripting good dialogue and having characters worth remembering way past the end credits. Considering his penchant for dark comedy, hairy situations and quotable dialogue, and that fact that he hails from Ireland, I could go all hyperbolic and say that McDonagh is “Irish (Shane) Black Coffee.” But that’s lame, so I won’t.

What I will say is that outside of calamitous hijinks revolving a stolen Shih Tzu is the conflict a writer goes through when he wants to create something original and that has meaning versus plotting out a guns-blazing, bloody finale we are all accustomed to with stories about psychos. It would be like writing a film called Habeas Corpus with the intent that it would have a cast of unknowns and getting Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts to star instead.

Seven Psychopaths gives us the best of both worlds.

Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Notable Cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits

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