Review

Murder, ink - Seven Psychopaths review

Colin Farrell as Marty, Christopher Walken as Hans, and Sam Rockwell as Billy. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for Seven Psychopaths.

 

By Simon Miraudo
November 8, 2012
(Republished March 11, 2013)

 

The funniest joke in Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths is how it tricks viewers into thinking it's a crime caper/gangster comedy, when it is in actuality a satire of the screenwriting process. That's not to say the laughs aren't there, or it's lacking any ultra-violence; far from it. But for all the darkly comic asides and witty conversations in McDonagh's script, the gag he clearly takes the most pleasure in is the ol' genre bait-and-switch. They come for the gangland violence; they stay for the story seminar.

 

Colin Farrell stars as Irish expat "Martin"; the first hint that this has more in common with Adaptation, in which Charlie Kaufman literally wrote himself into his own screenplay, than Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. An alcoholic scribe based in LA armed with a great film title - Seven Psychopaths - and no premise, he takes inspiration from unhinged actor buddy Billy (Sam Rockwell) for characters to comprise his flick. We are treated to a number of wickedly funny vignettes involving potential psychos - masked murderers, serial 'serial killer' killers, vengeful Quakers - each of whom might make their way into Martin's pic, or perhaps even intersect with his life. Billy's plot to kidnap dogs and return them to their owners (so he might claim the reward money) makes him a target of vicious mob boss Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), a psychopath with a disturbing attachment to his beloved Shih Tzu. Suddenly, Martin and Billy are running for their lives, and struck by inspiration like never before.

 

Seven Psychopaths

It's nice to see Farrell allowed to employ his Irish accent once again, just as he did in McDonagh's marvellous and melancholic In Bruges. "Martin" is more of a cipher for the writer-director, however; stuck to the sidelines merely to observe, interview crazies, and write new pages. Rockwell instead gets to steal the show - as he often does - as the picture's most hilarious and most bizarre creation; whose motivations are sadder and more mysterious than we could have anticipated.

 

The ads suggest Seven Psychopaths is populated by a cavalcade of stars, and that's true, though the degree to which they feature varies greatly. Christopher Walken does his thing - excellently, mind you - as Billy's pacifist partner in crime, Hans. Abbie CornishOlga Kurylenko, and Linda Bright Clay have mostly thankless roles as the fellas' respective partners (only Clay gets a showcase scene); an inequality in all of cinema that is addressed in just one of the many fourth-wall-breaking sequences. Their astute observation that women can die in movies, just not animals, doesn't exactly excuse its shortcomings.

 

It's also strange that something so concerned with the art of screenwriting should be so shapeless. The aforementioned Adaptation understood the rules it was breaking. Seven Psychopaths feels like a collision of weird characters, amusing scenarios, and unpredictable conclusions, but never a cohesive whole. It does build to a touching climax when Hans suggests a peaceful finale, and the events preceding it are too much fun for us to be truly bothered by the amorphousness of it all. Maybe McDonagh's not quite as clever as he thinks he is. That said, I would hardly suggest this cheeky, acid-tongued talent tone down his signature trait.

 

4 Stars

Check out Simon Miraudo's other reviews here.

 

Seven Psychopaths is available on DVD and Blu-ray from March 13, 2013.