Posted August 14, 2012 by David Watson in Films
 
 

Seven Psychopaths


With the main character of Seven Psychopaths, a drunken Irish screenwriter suffering from writer’s block

With the main
character of Seven Psychopaths, a drunken Irish screenwriter suffering from
writer’s block
, sharing a name, Marty, and a profession with the
writer/director (the more sober Anglo-Irish Martin McDonagh), while sweating blood over the writing of a
violent but life-affirming black comedy titled, no prizes for guessing, Seven Psychopaths, it’s time to buckle
up; we’re in meta-movieland and that big patch of nothing receding in the
rearview was Kansas going bye bye Dorothy.

All struggling screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) wants to do is finish his new screenplay, Seven Psychopaths, but booze and his
shrewish girlfriend Kaya (Abbie Cornish)
keep getting in the way. Marty’s
best friend, unemployed actor and part-time dog-napper Billy (Sam Rockwell) decides all Marty needs
is a little inspiration and places a small ad in the newspaper inviting
psychopaths to be interviewed by Marty for background material, in the process
attracting a bunny-loving serial killer (Tom
Waits
) who, like Dexter, only murders serial killers.

Unfortunately, Billy and his partner Hans (Christopher Walken) just kidnapped the
wrong dog for ransom. Adorable
Shih Tzu Bonnie is the only thing psychotic gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson) has ever loved and
he’ll go to any lengths, kill anyone, to get her back. Saved from Charlie’s men by the
murderous masked vigilante the Jack of Diamonds (who leaves a Jack of Diamonds
playing card at the site of each of his murders), Marty decides to kick the
booze and get out of town, heading off to the desert with Billy and Hans (and
Bonnie) to hide out and get some quality writing done. But Charlie isn’t far behind…

Messy, ramshackle, violent and overlong, writer/director Martin
McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths is as
pant-wettingly funny and profane as his earlier In Bruges without ever coming close to being as satisfying. If In
Bruges
was about what happens when hit men go on holiday, Seven Psychopaths feels like it’s about
what happens when screenwriters have lots of ideas, little inspiration and a
deadline to meet. It’s a rambling,
incoherent collection of scabrous sketches and anecdotes (most of them
admittedly hilarious) in search of a narrative; a self-indulgent,
self-conscious, self-referential ode to the hypocrisies and contradictions of
the movie biz.

Playing like Adaptation
if it had been made by Oliver Stone,
Seven Psychopaths is a film about filmmaking,
about writing, about the agony and the ecstasy of the creative process. It’s a film about storytelling. Unfortunately, it lacks any real
story. Or characters. Everyone is a funny, fast-talking
archetype that, like Harry Dean Stanton’s
Quaker Angel of Vengeance or Long Nguyen’s
Vietnamese Priest very probably only exist either in Marty’s mind or on his
page (it’s no coincidence that Sam Rockwell’s mercurial loser Billy’s last name
is Bickle just like the Taxi Driver). With each vignette punctuated by graphic
violence, characters pop up, wax lyrical and pop off, often never to be seen
again, their stories unresolved.
With its cool characters, its hysterically offensive, politically
incorrect dialogue and its haphazard mingling of storylines, characters and
levels of reality, the spectre of Tarantino
hangs heavy over Seven Psychopaths,
the film feeling less like a finished screenplay than an early draft which
throws in every idea McDonagh has had since In Bruges and gives them a big stir. The results are very funny but uninvolving. The film is as dark and off-kilter as In Bruges was but it’s hard to care
about any of the characters; they’re caricatures, ideas for characters rather
than fleshed-out individuals making Seven
Psychopaths
bleakly entertaining but ultimately forgettable.

The performances are terrific however. Sam Rockwell’s bonkers Billy does get a
little wearing after a while, he’s just doing a more unhinged version of his
usual unhinged loser, but Woody Harrelson is wonderful as the sensitive,
dog-loving gangster Charlie and Farrell reminds us just why we were all so
excited about him after Minority Report
and Tigerland, giving the kind of
funny, likable, charismatic leading man performance he hasn’t given since, oh,
probably the last time he worked with McDonagh. As ever Walken is Walken and steals the show. In fact, he may even be more Walken
than usual but while it’s as eccentric as ever, his performance is sensitive,
funny and melancholic, bringing real pathos and the weight of past tragedy to Hans.

Predictably, the women fare less well. McDonagh’s never been particularly
adept at writing for women and, in Seven
Psychopaths
, acknowledges as much, his characters critiquing Hollywood’s
poor treatment of women even as McDonagh perpetuates it (a major female
character gets shot in the head, another gets shot in the stomach, a third
exists only to get her tits out, etc.,) but their treatment still leaves a bad
taste. In the thankless role of
Farrell’s shrewish girlfriend, a character continually referred to as a “c*nt”
(quite accurately in fact) by Rockwell, Cornish is sorely ill-used and you can
imagine her script notes probably consisted solely of “Be a pointlessly
ball-busting c*nt” while, despite her prominent billing, Olga Kurylenko gets just one scene (that doesn’t end well for her)
her character almost immediately forgotten both by the other characters and the
audience.

Linda Bright
Clay
as Walken’s terminally ill wife Myra is fantastic though,
providing the film’s most sympathetic and real character. Her daily visits from Walken’s Hans are
warm and intimate, their interactions sketching the decades of a loving relationship
far more effectively than Michael Haneke’s
recent 127-minute ponderously depressing reimagining of Cocoon while a pivotal scene with Harrelson is the best in the film,
undercutting the film’s cynically callous, self-consciously determined wackiness.

A literal and metaphorical shaggy dog story, Seven Psychopaths biggest problem is it
wants to have its cake and eat it by both celebrating and subverting Hollywood
genre clichés, deconstructing the art of storytelling and providing a
meditation on movie violence even as it dumps crowd-pleasing buckets of blood
in the laps of the audience. Darkly
funny, stuffed with laugh-out-loud quotable lines and hugely ambitious, Seven Psychopaths ultimately fails to
involve you. You’ll love it while
you’re watching it but on the bus home you’ll be hard pressed to remember what
happened or what the Hell it was all about. All you’ll be left with is the sneaking suspicion Abbie
Cornish might be a bit of a cow.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com