Seven Psychopaths: A Tale of Two Movies



Seven Psychopaths, the second feature film from writer/director Martin McDonagh, opened in theaters this past weekend, and rather than bury the lead I’m just going to go ahead and say right off the bat that you should go check it out.  The film stars Colin Farrell as Marty, a struggling writer seeking inspiration for his overdue (and blank) screenplay.  He has a title (Seven Psychopaths, naturally), but no plot, and people from his own life begin to fill out the story alongside the figments of his imagination as the film progresses.  If one is looking for inspiration on a film about psychopaths, of course it helps to have friends like Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken), who run an apparently successful business “borrowing” dogs and returning them a few days later for a reward.

Seven Psychopaths begins more or less as a story about helpful friends.  Marty has only one of his seven characters down on paper, a Buddhist psychopath (later amended to a Quaker).  Billy helpfully points out a newspaper story about a serial killer who only kills other killers, specifically “mid-to-high ranking members of the Mafia…and Yakuza”. The other five blanks are quickly filled in as Billy and Hans inadvertently kidnap a Shih Tzu belonging to a slightly unhinged local crime boss named Charlie (Woody Harrelson), and Marty finds himself surrounded by more psychopaths than he could have hoped for.

Like Martin McDonagh’s debut film In Bruges, this is a story that revels in blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, seamlessly interweaving its own plot with the fictional film of the same name.  It’s built like a Russian nesting doll, and every character from both the film and the film within a film has an integral role to fill.  Some of these roles are apparent from the start and others are still being revealed as the credits roll, and not a moment of space is wasted in between.  The fact that it works at all is impressive enough, and the fact that it works this well is astounding.  Also like In Bruges, this is a film that completely ignores the boundaries of its genre, and refuses to provide any emotional hand-holding when it does go off the rails.  It’s a superb comedy glazed with graphic brutality, sprinkled here and there with genuinely heartbreaking moments, and at times these things are all so close together it’s hard to settle on a reaction.

Of course a great script is nothing without the actors to back it up, and Seven Psychopaths has almost an embarrassment of riches in that department.  There are certain actors one gravitates to when in the market for a menacing gangster, but it takes genius casting to say “How about Woody Harrelson”?  Like Colin Farrell (and lately, Christopher Walken), Harrelson is a deceptively skilled actor trapped in a spiral of poor script choices, but when he gets his hands on the right role, the result can be pretty incredible.  He plays this one pretty close to the chest, and it’s nearly impossible to predict the outcome of any given scene that he occupies.  Walken is exceptional here as well, skating a razor-thin line between self-parody and overwhelming sincerity, and he delivers a lot of the film’s best moments.  Sam Rockwell is also great, but then he tends to be.  Oh, I should also mention Tom Waits, who only gets a small share of screen time as a psychopath who responds to an ad placed by Billy in an effort to help Marty with his script.  His backstory is amazing, and without a doubt, his scenes are my favorites in a movie filled with memorable scenes.

So this is me telling you twice, you should really go see Seven Psychopaths if you’re at all a fan of things that are good.  It’s an incredibly solid script backed up by the perfect cast, and it’s one of those rare films that lands every trick it attempts.  It’s just self aware enough to get the joke across without going too far into that self-referential territory that is the bane of so many recent comedies, and the heartfelt moments never feel manipulative.  There has been a surprisingly aggressive marketing campaign and the trailers are good, but really none of that does this film any justice, you just have to see it.  You won’t regret going, but I’d still consider it a personal favor because I really need to see whatever movie Martin McDonagh is going to make next.


About Ryan Searles

I like watching movies, and then talking about those movies. Sometimes I write things about them, which you should read. Other interests include boxed wine, video games, the works of Harlan Ellison and HG Wells, and being a general curmudgeon.

Posted on October 16, 2012, in Movies, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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