Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths

***1/2

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

In Bruges director Martin McDonagh returns with star Colin Farrell and another violent black comedy thriller that features a cast list which should make other directors scream “Wish I'd thought of that”. Think about it - Colin Farrell, (who, in this reviewer's opinion, is far more built for comedy roles than drama and action) Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. Comedy gold, you might say, with a story that promises gangsters, stolen shih tzus and lashings of satire heaped upon Hollywood.

It sounds a bit like Get Shorty, but shot through with McDonagh's particular vein of oddball, droll, and ironic black comedy dialogue that made In Bruges such a treat, to the point where that film could almost have functioned as an audiobook. Seven Psycopaths ends up delivering pretty much on the promise of the cast and premise, but it is less accessible and feels more sprawling and random than the smaller, tighter In Bruges, with a lower hit-to-miss ratio. Film buffs will lap it up, though, as its packed with meta references and sly nods, both cutting and affectionate, to various cliches and genres, and to filmmaking itself.

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We start with a classic writer's block scenario - Farrell is Marty, a struggling Hollywood writer who just can't nail down the bones of his screenplay, Seven Psychopaths. He's got a few characters and scenarios, but that's about it. He seems far more talented at getting drunk at midday and pissing off his girlfriend.

Marty's best friend Billy (Rockwell), unemployed actor and part-time dog thief along with his partner in crime Hans (Walken), is convinced that Marty is on the verge of greatness. With his enthusiasm for the power of cinema making him akin to a 10-year-old high on too many M&Ms and let loose in a toy shop, Billy is highly irritating but also committed in a deadly serious way. He fervently believes that all Marty needs is a little focus and inspiration to get Seven Psycopaths off the ground.

Marty soon finds out exactly what that inspiration entails as he ends up in the classic movie scenario of actually living out his own script, in a town notorious for providing real life stories far weirder than any fiction. Billy, it turns out, has targeted the wrong dog in his latest dogknapping mission. Billy and Hans have stolen the tiny shih tzu beloved of LA kingpin Charlie (Harrelson), who just happens to be the kind of psychopathic gangster Marty was trying to put into his lineup of Seven Psycopaths.

Charlie, who would kill man who so much as poured milk on his cornflakes the wrong way, nevertheless loves his dog with a passion, and is going to kill anyone and everyone remotely involved until he gets to Billy. Caught up in Billy and Hans' flight from Charlie's wrath, it soon dawns on Marty, to his horror, that his best pal sees this not as a life or death scenario but an epic canvas to paint an action adventure movie. This is Seven Psycopaths played out for real in a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Billy is determined that Marty should walk away from this - assuming he can walk away at all without getting his head blown off - with all the inspiration he needs to get that Seven Psycopaths movie script finished.

McDonagh just about makes this ultra violent meta train ride all hang together, wisely keeping the pace nippy by alternately mixing up the weirdness, the violence and the humour and throwing in a flashback, flash forward, or highly stylised fantasy/dream/parallel life sequence here and there when things seem to slow down (such as the recreations of scenes from Marty's imagined Seven Psychopaths movie, which inevitably will make viewers think of Tarantino).

He is helped massively by game performances from all involved, especially Walken, who invests Hans with an air of a menacing past and a take-no-shit dignity amid the oddball outbursts and general insanity. Like In Bruges, you can come away from this with a dozen funny one-liners rattling in your head, though McDonagh is far better at nailing down the randomness and tangential nature of so much modern humour rather than simply writing one-liners and puns. Stylistically it is far less restrained than In Bruges and that earlier film's simpler structure and smaller cast made it a more easier affair to jump to. This is more a wilder and faster (and bloodier) train ride that sometimes feels like its being a bit too random for the sake of it. But then, that's Hollywood for you.

Reviewed on: 30 Nov 2012
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Seven Psychopaths packshot
A booze-fuelled screenwriter becomes entangled in the Los Angeles underworld.
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