Seven Psychopaths

Posted: December 26, 2012 in Film reviews

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Christopher Walken.

Seven Psychopaths marks the second collaboration between writer/director McDonagh and Farrell, following on from the hugely entertaining, not to mention hugely sweary, In Bruges.

Set in Hollywood we meet Marty (Farrell) who’s a screenwriter at work upon a new script, though he hasn’t got much beyond the title, which is Seven Psychopaths. The studio is expecting a blood and guts action film, but Marty really wants to write something with more meaning.

His best friend is Billy, played by Sam Rockwell, a somewhat unhinged man who wants to help Marty write the script, and who even goes as far as placing an ad in the newspaper for psychopaths to get in touch as part of Marty’s research. Billy has a side-line in dognaping with Hans (Walken). They steal people’s pets, then wait for the reward posters to appear, at which point they go claim their prize. The trouble is that the latest dog they’ve napped belongs to a vicious (let’s be honest, psycho) mobster played by Woody Harrelson. Pretty soon the three men are on the run, but things aren’t quite as they appear, and one of the Seven Psychopaths might be closer than they imagine.

As soon as I knew this was by the man who gave us In Bruges I knew I definitely wanted to see it, but then I started hearing the reviews, and they weren’t all favourable,  and so it was with a little trepidation that I went to see it.

The first thing to make clear is that anyone expecting In Bruges part 2 will end up disappointed. Seven Psychopaths isn’t anywhere near as tautly plotted, and probably doesn’t have quite the heart that In Bruges has (although I think some reviewers have been unduly hard on it in this respect because it does have some heart).

The notion of a film within a film is a great idea, but it does mean that, to some extent, McDonagh wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants a low key finale, but still wants to have the all guns blazing final shootout, and the nature of the film allows him to have both. I can see how some reviewers have baulked at this, and it is slightly irritating that McDonagh clearly wants to make a film extolling the virtues of pacifism and Buddhism, albeit one that still indulges the viewers’ desire for explosions, gunplay and violence. For me, however, this just about works, maybe I just wanted to have my cake and eat it as well.

Another criticism is over the film’s treatment of women, with Walken’s character even going so far as to lampshade this fact by pointing out that Marty writes terrible women characters, and it is true that Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko have roles that are practically made out of cardboard, and only seem to be there to further the plot (and give Billy someone to be horrible to). Maybe McDonagh is trying to make a point about female characters in this kind of film, or maybe he just can’t write female characters and he’s highlighting this before someone else does?

I’d almost believe it was the latter, except we have the character of Hans’ wife who, despite not being in the film very long, manages to be far more three dimensional and has some great scenes with Walken and Harrelson.

The plot sags a little in the middle, and the story does seem to meander a bit, with McDonagh clearly knowing how he wanted the film to start, and how he wanted it to end but perhaps being a little unsure how he gets his characters from point A to point B. this could have been annoying, but I found it a little refreshing, much like Looper from earlier in the year, this film doesn’t quite join the dots in a way you might expect which just makes it more surprising than annoying.

The film’s biggest strengths are in its casting and its humour. Nobody does utter bewilderment better than Farrell and he’s the anchor of the film, the one sane (if possibly drunk) man surrounded by varying degrees of lunatics. Rockwell is given free rein to indulge the hyperactive mad man shtick he does so well, but he does give Billy some quieter moments, and manages to make him more than a mere caricature. Harrelson is always good value, although he perhaps doesn’t quite come across quite psycho enough. Walken puts them all to shame though, owning many of the scenes he’s in, at times without having to say a word, and though he’s actually playing a nice character, he still seems very scary at times.

The humour is great throughout, and I laughed a lot, in fact one scene might have had me rolling around on the floor if I hadn’t been in a cinema with other people…I did come close to having tears in my eyes it was that funny.

As I say, the film isn’t perfect, it meanders in places, and characters appear and disappear too rapidly, and though each of the psychopaths stories is interesting in its own way, you do feel a few of them are just there to pad the number out to seven (and one bit of padding seems a bit too much). Still it’s funny, action packed, and has the eponymous cast to die for, so I’d give this at least seven psychopaths out of ten, maybe a smidgen more.

Can you have half a psychopath…?

 

 

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