Seven Psychopaths Review

(3.5 STARS)

In what’s turning out to be a banner year for uber-clever, original scripts, Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths has one of the very best. McDonagh’s In Bruges was merely a warm-up act for the violent zaniness that is his sophomore directorial effort. If you were a fan of that film, you’ll love this one. I wasn’t, but I still found Seven Psychopaths kick-ass.

Colin Farrell, playing an alcoholic screenwriter named Martin, is back for another go-around with McDonagh, and he’s joined by Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson, who give three of the most amusing supporting performances in quite some time. Rockwell’s Billy is Martin’s best friend. He makes his living kidnapping—sorry, “borrowing”—dogs and returning them to collect the reward. His business partner is Hans (Walken), a deeply religious man whose wife is dying of cancer.

Billy swipes a shih tzu one day in what seems to be as routine a dognapping as any. But this dog belongs to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a ruthless mob boss who treasures nothing in this world more than his beloved shih tzu, Bonny.

As you might expect the ensuing bloodlust is both relentless and hilarious, but McDonagh frames it all within the larger story of Martin’s struggle to write his latest screenplay about a septet of pacifist psychopaths (called “Seven Psychopaths”, of course). And though he’s struggled to this point, a serial killer known as the Jack of Diamonds Killer has given him a new spark of creativity. Billy, too, has been uncharacteristically helpful to Martin, despite the former’s obsession with having a balls-to-the-wall climactic shootout. Martin, however, is becoming increasingly worried that real life might intersect this written fiction in deadly ways for he and his friends.

The first act of Seven Psychopaths is a bit rough (despite amusing cameos from Michael Pitt and A Serious Man‘s Michael Stuhlbarg). One gets the sense that McDonagh thinks his script is cleverer than it is, as Martin and Billy’s profane bantering lacks the relish that made Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s In Bruges bantering so memorable. It doesn’t take long for McDonagh to dispel any such notion, as his pulpy script’s frequent twists and turns delight and pull a number of disparate threads together in completely unpredictable ways.

Then, Sam Rockwell gets a monologue that must be seen to be believed. It’s the single best scene of 2012 by a country mile, as his ideas for Martin’s screenplay suddenly click both in his head and on our screens. Frequently, McDonagh teases his viewers with nods to what’s coming next. The blatant “metaness” of the project makes such proclamations funny. It’s Rockwell’s piece (which comes about two-thirds through the picture) that brilliantly defies our expectations and reminds us McDonagh is working off template.

Among the extremely accomplished cast, Rockwell stands out as deserving of end-of-year citations. Of course, the film as a whole is too bananas for something like that, but for fans of his, you might have a new favorite Rockwell performance. Christopher Walken is the closest the film comes to having an emotional core; He’s also extremely funny. Colin Farrell, meanwhile, is giving it his everyman best. He character is reactionary, which means he doesn’t have many truly memorable moments. The film needs a personality like that, however, to keep it at least a little grounded, and you could do a lot worse than Farrell’s unapologetically Irish Martin.

The editing in Seven Psychopaths is strong, as is the sun-soaked Los Angeles cinematography. It’s simply a very strong film from one of the most assured cinematic voices working today. It creates some of the year’s wildest characters and moments, and every individual element builds toward something inexplicably coherent and undeniably unique.

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