Seven Psychopaths

PhotobucketMarty (Colin Farrell), a struggling screenwriter, is assisted on his latest work by his unemployed actor friend Billy who also happens to kidnap dogs in his spare time with partner-in-crime Hans. They return the animals to their owners for reward money. Billy inadvertently kidnaps a violent mobster’s beloved pet and that sets our story in motion. That might seem like a convoluted set up, but it’s just barely the tip of the iceberg of this tale. In fact that dog napping Shih Tzu storyline featured in the trailer and posters is but one aspect of a rapidly shifting plot that includes a writer’s desperate attempt to finish his screenplay, a “Jack of Diamonds” killer stalking Los Angeles mobsters, a Quaker out to avenge his daughter’s death and a Vietnamese priest with unresolved anger over the Vietnam war.

Seven Psychopaths features an “oh so hip it hurts” screenplay by Martin McDonagh. Its carefree tone plays with genre conventions in a manner that can be funny. However, that liveliness is frequently undone by gut churning violence. It’s really hard to keep laughing when we’re watching a man slice his own neck in unblinking style. To make matters worse this action is repeated when another man performs the same horrific act immediately after. There used to be a time when the camera would avert its gaze at such monstrosities but director Martin McDonagh insists on assaulting the audience. It completely takes us out of the humor of the situation. When Zachariah Rigby (Tom Waits) recounts how he and his girlfriend went around the country killing off other serial killers, the acts are performed in such gruesome detail that the carnage makes Saw or Hostel look like Babette’s Feast by comparison.

Where Seven Psychopaths shines is in the script. Its tale delights in being absurd. Woody Harrelson is notable as Charlie Costello. He’s a violent mobster who is quite comfortable with shooting a man at point blank range in the face. Yet he worships his prized Shih Tzu above all human life. Woody Harrelson is quite possibly the MVP of the picture. A majority of the best moments involve him, no small feat with a talented cast benefited by notorious scene stealers Christopher Walker as Hans and Sam Rockwell as Billy. Charlie’s interrogation of Hans’ wife at the hospital (played with steely resolve by Linda Bright Clay) is a mesmerizing exchange.

Seven Psychopaths satirizes mob movie conventions with rapid fire dialogue. The script is highlighted by a meandering, disjointed narrative. Even the very title is a misnomer because there are really only six psychopaths. One (Billy) gets counted twice. Plus they’re not the same lunatics represented on the poster. For example, where is the Vietnamese priest? Granted these are trivialities. It’s the odd mix of violence and humor that is truly unsettling. The film will hold considerably more appeal for viewers with strong stomachs that can find humor in extreme ultra violence. Yet for all its faults, Seven Psychopaths is simply too well acted and audacious to simply dismiss. There are definitely some amusing moments amongst the repartee and memorable characters. The quick exchanges have the actors rarely pausing to even take a breath. Christopher Walken amps up his eccentric delivery to comical effect where he becomes a parody of himself (in a good way). Sam Rockwell likewise chews the scenery, but it’s Woody Harrelson that truly takes the cake. When it’s finished, I’m not sure all the chaos really fits together in a coherent puzzle, but with a movie like this, I guess that’s not really the point.

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23 Responses to “Seven Psychopaths”

  1. I’m not to sure if I want to see this one. I like Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson, but after reading some reviews I don’t really feel an urge to watch it. Nice review.

  2. Good review Mark. I had a lot of fun with this flick but in my opinion, In Bruges was a bit better due to it having more of a heart to itself. Still, great film none the less.

  3. 3 1/2 stars. I really enjoyed this movie. I liked all the little stories involved. It was eye cringing from time to time, but overall, it was quite funny and well acted.

    • Any movie that includes Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken is going to have some memorable performances and this didn’t disappoint in that area.

  4. It was quite gruesome haha, especially when one of the character’s head blew up in that imagination sequence. I enjoyed In Bruges more for the heart of it, but I got sucked up in this atmosphere more than Bruges. Good review Mark!

    • Agreed. In Bruges had a lot more heart.

      Watching someone’s head explode when they get shot was effectively humorous because it was so ridiculously over the top. It didn’t seem real, like a cartoon. But much of the violence was so realistic looking, it wasn’t funny, it just wore me down . I got sick of it.

      • Yeah that’s pretty true. The only time I felt a little worn is when two of the characters sliced their throats, immediately after each other. I was just thinking, “Okay, McDonagh, calm down with the gruesomeness a little here, please.”

  5. Great review Mark. I generally have a strong stomach for violence, but this movie even made ME feel uncomfortable, so I can’t imagine how the average viewer would take it. As you say, the violence really takes you away from the humor. On the whole I really enjoyed the quirky characters, though I also felt the story was meandering. It’s not enough to just plop amusing personalities together. They should move in an interesting direction together too.

    • Obscene violence in a drama about the Vietnam War = perfectly understandable. Obscene violence in a lighthearted comedy about dog napping = eh not so much.

      I couldn’t even remember who was supposed to be a psychopath and who wasn’t. They were all crazy. Everything was so scattershot. It seemed unfocused.

  6. Great review Mark! Don’t know if you read my review but I absolutely loved this film. Personally I thought Rockwell was the standout of this film. The cemetery scene was just hilarious, I even had some tears in my eyes from that scene.

    • It was so “meta” because that’s the moment where Billy pitches to his friends his idea of how Seven Psychopaths should end. That showstopping shoot-out scene set in the cemetery was so memorable that the subsequent climax set in Joshua Tree National Park was kind of a letdown.

      I did read your review. Even though I didn’t enjoy the film as much as you, I can understand why you liked it. The performances were engaging. Woody Harrelson was definitely my favorite.

  7. I didn’t like it as much as In Bruges, but it will be interesting to see whether it improves with a few viewings. I agree that it is disjointed, but I was pretty happy overall.

  8. Brilliant review, Mark :)

  9. Nice review, Mark! Although I’m not sure I’d like this one. I’ve heard average-great things about it, but I take an instant dislike to any character that kidnaps dogs. Featuring a Shih Tzu is at least one redeeming feature, though :)

    • I don’t think you’re supposed to like the dog-nappers actually. Nobody is particularly likeable in this.

      I wasn’t crazy about the film, so I’m not highly recommending it. If it doesn‘t look good to you, I’d skip it.

  10. Seems intersting to say the least. I’ve liked movies like this in the past, I’ll put this on my list to see. Really great review, Mark.

  11. Really want to see this as I really enjoyed In Bruges. The cast is also very impressive and I’d watch anything with Tom Waits in it. Nice write-up man. (by the way, this is completely unrelated but did you know that Dead Can Dance have a new album out?)

    • No! I didn’t know that. I don’t think they’ve released an album since Spiritchaser in the 90s. Wow. Thanks for the heads up!

      P.S. I think you’re really gonna love Seven Psychopaths.

  12. Largely I agree. Colin Farrell is supposed to be the main character, but it’s all the other characters around him that make this an interesting watch. Walken and Harrelson are the stand outs, though as a follow up to In Bruges it’s a weak mix of thriller and comedy, and not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. Found it to be a much more enjoyable thriller though, with a twisted set of sensibilities at it’s core.

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