If you liked writer/director Martin McDonagh’s last film, In Bruges (2008) then it is pretty hard not to go into Seven Psychopaths with some level of anticipation. While it’s not a major drop of the ball from McDonagh, it is a haywire mess of a film, preoccupied with its self-aware meta tendencies and forgetting to tell a coherent story. It is a film that thinks it is cleverer than it is and I walked away disappointed. Marty (Collin Farrell) is a struggling writer who is way past deadline on his most recent screenplay, “Seven Psychopaths.” Billy (Sam Rockwell), (Marty's best friend) is making a living as a part time dog thief with Hans (Christopher Walken). When Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a psychopathic gangster whose beloved dog has just been stolen by Billy and Hans, sets out on a violent revenge mission to find her, Marty is caught up in the middle.
Despite an apparent air of smugness and self-gratification, McDonagh’s self-aware screenplay makes for some very funny moments. It seems to be satirizing Tarantino/Guy-Ritchie-esque crime thrillers, but the references to guns, villains and final shootouts (for example) seem very general. The incessant violence tires, the laughs dry up in the desert-dominated latter half, and it is far too long.
Yes, there are some excellent set pieces; Billy’s acted-out version of how Marty’s film should end is hilarious, the opening exchange between two characters I wish were present for the entire film kicks things off splendidly and the chemistry between Farrell and Rockwell ensures that their exchanges have plenty of stinging moments. Lauded by audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival, I expect Seven Psychopaths is a film that many will enjoy immensely despite not knowing what the hell is going on.
The literary angle to the madness works for a while, but then its overcooked violence and playful predictability (perhaps it is intentional – but that’s no excuse for sacrificing entertainment value) undermines its cleverness. There is some criticism made about Marty’s script regarding the female characters. Both Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko have nothing to do, and this felt like a lazy way for McDonagh to cover his tracks in this department.
It is hard to fault any of the cast, really. Farrell is the straight man throughout all of this. He convinces as a pacifistic screenwriter with creative limitations and his escalating frustration at being tagged an alcoholic is hilarious. Walken’s deadpan delivery is the source of humour through and his frank refusal to put his hands up when having a gun pointed at his chest perfectly defines his character. Harrelson’s teary confessions about his love for his dog, and his opposing contempt for people (and emotionless killing) make his character an unpredictable maniac. Rockwell (excellent) is the loudest and most crass of the characters and we learn that the film would not have been the same without him.
Amidst the brilliant dialogue and cliché toying McDonagh turns genres and tropes upside down, but this is a vastly inferior follow-up to the fantastic In Bruges. Seven Psychopaths leaves a bitter aftertaste that’s difficult to lose and a lot of the enjoyment experienced in the film’s opening act evaporates into a wayward and mean-spirited dose of grating violence and extraneous ideas.
[rating=2] and a half stars.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken
Seven Psychopaths, distributed through Hopscotch Films, is released in cinemas November 8.
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.