It’s funny how marketing works sometimes. Much like his feature debut In Bruges, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s follow-up Seven Psychopaths is being marketed as a post-Tarantino post-Ritchie (who of course himself cribbed heavily from people like John Mackenzie and Mike Hodges, both of whom are better McDonagh analogues) male violence comedy, where fucks, bullets and egos fling every which way but loose. Which… they sort of are. At least on the surface. But as any great playwright (and McDonagh certainly is one) does, McDonagh packs these works with really quite stunning amounts of brain and heart.
In Bruges is one of the great treats of millennial cinema, and remains the finest work of most everyone involved. Colin Farrell – so exceptional in that movie – has come along for the ride in Seven Psychopaths (a script that McDonagh, apparently, has been working on for the better part of his career), and is joined by other McDonagh regulars Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell (both of whom starred in his damn good play A Behanding In Spokane) as well as Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Zeljko Ivanek, Kevin Corrigan, and a handful of other people that I’d rather not spoil (stunt casting! I know!).
While it’s not as good as that comparatively smaller film, McDonagh still manages to emerge with a very fine film, one that toes a fun and weird line between embracing the fun of action cinema while clinging – consciously or not - to a distinctly theatrical feel, where characters are free to monologue and play off of each other in well defined physical spaces. In this twisting, folding tale of a Hollywood screenwriter named Martin (Farrell), who’s trying to write his movie Seven Psychopaths while wrestling with alcoholism, his reliance on violence as a theme, and the ire of a mob boss (Harrelson) after his stolen dog, everything is as it seems and yet is other things too.
McDonagh holds onto his cake and eats it with aplomb, mostly to positive effect. In the great post-modern tradition, Seven Psychopaths is constantly commenting on itself, both in retrospect and in real time, as characters’ knowledge of tropes and narratives bend the reality of the film to their liking. So no, it’s not exactly the popcorn movie the lime splash sheet would imply. But then again it is, full of plenty of one liners, beautiful gals, and shootouts, oh glorious shootouts. McDonagh certainly isn’t the first person to do something like this (The Last Action Hero, for instance, shares DNA with Seven Psychopaths). But he does it really, really well.
The performances are excellent across the board (though I was sad that Farrell’s character just isn’t as good as his In Bruges one, and is therefore shunted off to the side more than you would think from the plot and promotional material). It’s dominated by titanic twin jobs by Walken and Rockwell, both of whom find the maximum amount of fun in the lyrical script while also wringing the truth from what could have been a cold intellectual exercise. Rockwell has a long monologue towards the end that I guarantee will have your theater cheering.
The film looks beautiful, capturing Los Angeles as it never is, a strangely empty looking metropolis that is surrounded not by oceans but by dusty deserts where blood coagulates in sand. If you’ve read or seen McDonagh’s great play The Pillowman, you’ll be familiar with the vignette style story-in-stories that show up here, and he’s still good at it. The beginning of the third act sags a little, but it’s not enough to deflate the ginsu sharp wit and emotional honesty on display. All in a movie called Seven Psychopaths.- Whole Milk