Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Movie Review: Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths
Directed by: Martin McDonagh.
Written by: Martin McDonagh.
Starring: Colin Farrell (Marty), Sam Rockwell (Billy), Christopher Walken (Hans), Woody Harrelson (Charlie), Tom Waits (Zachariah), Abbie Cornish (Kaya), Olga Kurylenko (Angela), Zeljko Ivanek (Paulo), Harry Dean Stanton (Man in Hat), Linda Bright Clay (Myra), Long Nguyen (Vietnamese Priest), Michael Pitt (Larry), Michael Stuhlbarg (Tommy), Kevin Corrigan (Dennis), Gabourey Sidibe (Sharice), Christine Marzano (The Hooker), Amanda Mason Warren (Maggie).

The main character in Seven Psychopaths, written and directed by the Irish Martin McDonagh, is an Irish screenwriter named Martin, who has a brilliant title for his latest screenplay, Seven Psychopaths, but no story, and no real idea for who the seven psychopaths of the title are. Throughout the course of the movie the audience is watching, Martin will meet these psychopaths – or most of them anyway – and they will help him write his screenplay, which is presumably, the movie we are watching. This sort of blending of the movie we’re watching as it’s being written has been done before – most notably in Adaptation, where screenwriter Charlie Kaufman made himself, and his fictional twin brother Donald, the main characters – and when Charlie gets stuck and doesn’t know how to end his movie, his hack brother takes over and ends the movie with chases and violence and death. Martin McDonagh does a similar thing with Seven Psychopaths – the result may not be quite the triumph of Adaptation, but damn if he doesn’t come close. Oh, and Seven Psychopaths is also one of the most deliriously entertaining films of the year.

Marty (Colin Farrell) is an Irish screenwriter, who has been stuck for months, possibly because he is an alcoholic – that everyone seems to feel the need to remind him of in nearly every scene. The movie acknowledges that an Irishman being a drunk is a cliché, but merrily goes on its way anyway. His girlfriend Kaya (Abbie Cornish) is getting frustrated with his drinking, and is on the verge of breaking with up with him. Meanwhile, his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is a would be actor, who makes his money with a dog kidnapping scam he runs with Hans (Christopher Walken). Their new plan is to kidnap the dog of psychopathic mob man Charlie (Woody Harrelson), because he loves Shih Tzu Bonny so much they figure they can milk a lot of money out of him. But Charlie is even crazier than they realize, and soon is on the war path looking for his dog. Oh, and Marty is trying really hard to come up with stories for his seven psychopaths, and starts taking them for the headlines – a man known only as the Jack of Diamonds killer, who only kills mafia men and stories others have told him. When he still needs subjects, Billy places an ad in LA Weekly for psychopath to share their stories – and this is how they meet Zachariah (Tom Waits), his rabbit and his strange story. The only character that Marty has actually invented for his screenplay is a bitter ex-Vietcong soldier hell-bent on destroying America – but he doesn’t really want to use him because despite the title, he doesn’t want Seven Psychopaths to be just another psychopath movie. After the first half of the movie, in which a lot of people get killed in one bloody way after another, Marty decides that how he wants the movie to end is the main characters drive out to the desert and talk – and that’s precisely what he, Billy and Hans do. But Billy doesn’t want such a pussy ending to the movie, and decides to stack the deck in favor of what he wants.

If all of this makes Seven Psychopaths sound like a complicated movie that’s because it is. But it is also a wonderfully entertaining movie that embraces some clichés of the genre, and then explicitly mentions the clichés the film is embracing (like in a great conversation between Marty and Hans about his female characters) and then completely defies other ones. The actors fully embrace their roles, and while you would think that a movie with seven psychopaths would have a lot of overlap in terms of characters – you’d be wrong. All the psychos maybe psychos, but they are each uniquely their own psycho. Sam Rockwell has perhaps the showiest role of the bunch that uses his off-kilter grin that always looks slightly crazed anyway to great effect. Woody Harrelson has great fun chewing the scenery as an unrepentant psycho, and has even more fun becoming a little wuss when his dog is involved. Tom Waits plays Zachariah as pretty much only he could – scary, sad and sympathetic all at the same time. And Colin Farrell keeps the whole movie grounded – the only “normal” character in the film. Far and away the best performance in the movie however belongs to Christopher Walken. You pretty much have to cast Walken if you are making a movie called Seven Psychopaths, and yet Walken’s Hans is the most sympathetic character in the movie – and the wisest. Walken has fully embraced his weird screen persona, and whored it out so often in some many bad movies, you sometimes forget just how great – how subtle – he can be when given the right role. His Hans is a man with a tragic backstory, and really a tragic story arc in the movie, and yet unlike everyone else, he doesn’t embrace violence – he has moved beyond that. Walken’s performance is a comedic gem, but also strangely moving. It’s one of the best performances he has ever given.

Martin McDonagh has already won an Oscar (for his short film, Six Shooter) and crafted a great crime drama with his debut feature In Bruges, which gave Farrell his best role ever. With Seven Psychopaths he has made a crime drama that is a little more complicated – that toys with the genre and the audience – and is still an hilarious, violent, bloody example of the genre it is sending up. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

1 comment:

  1. Everybody here seems to be having a ball with this script and how could you not? It’s snappy, dark, hilarious, and altogether, unpredictable as to where the hell it’s going to go next. That’s what I always like to see in my crime movies, actually, just movies in general. Good review Dave.