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Movie Reviews

Seven Psychopaths



Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Martin McDonagh

Stars: Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson

Released: 7th December 2012

Seven Psychopaths is a specific type of film. It is a special kind of movie yet it is one those outside the realm of devoted cinephiles might not fully comprehend. For this reason, and many many others I absolutely loved the movie. What is fascinating, yes fascinating, about the film is how despite the idea that an audience member who doesn’t see many movies would still get everything out of this film they likely interpreted as being promised in the trailer (guns, sex, violence, humor) there is also a completely different layer provided for those expecting a little more from the outstanding cast and if you know a little more, the brilliant writer and fine director Martin McDonagh who was behind one of my favorite films of 2008, In Bruges. What this separate layer provides is a very self-aware, meta-style story within a story that provides all the cliches and archetypes of a Hollywood production while at the same time deconstructing and analyzing each of them. Telling us why they are needed in order for us to feel fulfilled when walking out of the theater and why some of it seems so ridiculous when put through McDonagh’s unique looking glass. On another level, what is even more satisfying about the film is its ability to be the film that its main character is writing, and be the best version of what he could likely imagine. We are easily taken in by the tricks of the hilarity and the profane violence, but despite all of that it is a really nice, peaceful film about love and friendship. There is a lot to go through, but these inherent features are what shine through after we allow the film to really settle in.
Within the first few minutes it is easy to tell how much of a good time this movie intends to be. And as typical as it might sound, I don’t know that I’ve had a more flat-out fun or a more strictly entertaining experience at the movies this year. It all begins with a seemingly unrelated couple of murders (that feature the great talent of Michael Stuhlbarg nonetheless) introducing us to our first psychopath which then rollicks into our introduction to Marty (Colin Farrell) who is a screenwriter looking for inspiration for his new script aptly titled “Seven Psychopaths”. Marty just happens to have a best friend that possesses a good amount of applicable qualities himself to the screenplay in Bill (Sam Rockwell). Bill is kind of a bum, the guy doesn’t have a steady job, is a wannabe actor and is always a bit on the uneasy side. Lacking in confidence would be a fair way to describe our early impressions of Bill. To make a little money Bill teams up with Hans (Christopher Walken) who is an older gentleman with a dying wife who suffers from cancer. To make this money though involves the scam that is the central focus of the trailer but is simply a way to set up all of the cross-overs and complications that the movie actually entails. Hans and Bill kidnap dogs only to return them once their has been a reward placed on the canines for their return. It is a fun, quirky little set-up that goes awry when Bill kidnaps the shih tzu of a psychotic gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson). This is clearly more than enough for Marty to draw on as Hans has an interestingly violent past for such a religious man as well as McDonagh also throwing in a character for Tom Waits and a metaphor of a Vietnamese man that brings a certain weight to the violent slapstick that presides over most of the film.
The experience of watching the film lies both within the script where McDonagh is both adept at pacing and weaving several storylines so intricately while keeping up with what were no doubt countless thoughts and intentions about making specific statements. The writer/director has so many things going on here it is a wonder how he kept it all straight, but he does so good at making his point clear about the predictability of B-movies and the way in which they are mass produced to include as big a demographic as possible. It is one thing to sort out such statements and characters to represent these points of view but it is another to also have the right actors in place to convey that material correctly, with just the right timing so that subtle sarcasm may be easily picked up on by those who are completely engrossed by the term paper that McDonagh is writing on the state of Hollywood action films.
While it is nice to see Farrell re-teaming with his In Bruges director, and he certainly does fine as the leading man, he is also playing the most sensible person in the film which immediately makes him the least interesting. While the throughline story contains his character Marty it is also fully focused in on Rockwell and Walken’s characters and in them lies the real magic of the movie. Rockwell has always played unhinged well (be sure and checkout Moon andChoke if you’ve never seen them) and here he applies it to such a degree that we know we are in for a treat every time he appears on the screen. His scenes with Walken and Farrell in the desert are some of the smartest written and best delivered scenes I’ve seen on film this year. His characters description of a final shootout around the campfire will likely become a point of cult reference in the near future. Walken has not been this good in a while. He has, as of late, resigned to bit parts that have made more a caricature than an actual person, but leave it to McDonagh’s wonderful characterization to pull something out of the actor that feels truly genuine in a way that anchors the entire movie with more gravitas than it would have possessed otherwise.
I walked into Seven Psychopaths expecting a lot, but not necessarily something great. Whether it was the level of expectation or the low profile way in which the film had dropped itself into theaters this past weekend I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much I came out loving the film. It turned out to be one of those movies you could immediately turn around and watch again and receive just as much enjoyment out of it the second time, probably even more. There is such a fine line for me between a film that is better than most of what we see and something great. I understand that some people will very much disagree with me about this film when I say I absolutely loved it and can’t think of a bad thing to say about it. To a certain point, I like to think I could understand where they are coming from, but that would contradict my previous statement about my thinking. I loved it, no way around it, and I certainly hope McDonagh is allowed the opportunity to keep rolling out these bleak, black comedies that feature not only intelligent dialogue and razor sharp, very funny jabs at anyone and everyone. He has a knack for it and seems to know very well how to tell the story he so desires and more importantly get it across in the way he so intended.
It would be a crime not to mention Woody Harrelson in my review as well. The guy isn’t in the film so much as you may expect with him being who he is, but he has proved himself again and again over the past few years with countless great performances that this almost feels like the cherry on the top of the icing as he could have seriously uttered not a single word throughout and he would have been just as entertaining as he is when he is allowed to let his psycho-side fly. Let’s be serious though, we could gather this core group of actors in a room and have them read the telephone book and they would no doubt find a way to make it funnier and more original than half of the things we’ve seen at the movies this year. The fact they have a script providing such great material and the director who wrote it and understands that material well enough to weld every element together makes us lucky enough to witness such a brilliant product.


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