‘Seven Psychopaths’ Packs Hollywood Elite Into Quippy Flick
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Martin McDonagh’s new film Seven Psychopaths is a violent and twistedly hilarious vision of Hollywood. The entire movie serves as an ultra metacommentary on violence in movies and the creative process. Colin Farrell stars as Marty, a Hollywood screenwriter working on a new screenplay titled Seven Psychopaths. Making no progress on the script, he receives unsolicited advice and inspiration from his friends Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken), who go around town, kidnapping dogs and then collecting the reward money. Billy and Hans, however, mistakenly kidnap the shih tzu of a psychopathic crime lord, Charlie (Woody Harrelson). As Charlie desperately tries to reclaim his beloved dog, Marty and his friends must go on the run to stay alive.
Seven Psychopaths is McDonagh’s second feature film after his critically adored 2008 hit, In Bruges. McDonagh’s roots as a renowned Irish playwright shine in all his work through his affinity for snappy, entertaining dialogue rather than visual storytelling. The dialogue truly stands out in this film, as the entire cast delivers impressive performances. Farrell performs admirably as the Irish Hollywood screenwriter struggling with writer’s block. Christopher Walken nails the role of Hans. He detours from playing the character as a self-parody and instead delivers an honest and unexpectedly moving portrait of a friend who has suffered enough from violence in his lifetime. The true star of the film, however, is Sam Rockwell as Billy. A struggling actor who’s a bit psychopathic himself, Billy is eager to please his friends to the point that he takes out an advertisement in the newspaper calling for any and all psychopaths to visit Marty and give him inspiration for the screenplay.
As an actor, Rockwell has always excelled at playing characters who constantly switch from hilarious to terrifying, and he strikes a perfect balance of those traits as Billy. Whenever Billy makes a mistake, Rockwell conveys perfectly how his motives were not selfish, but he was merely trying to help his friends. In perhaps the best scene of the film, Billy stands in front of Marty and Hans in the middle of the desert at night and describes to them how he thinks Marty’s Seven Psychopaths should end. The passion and excitement with which he delivers those lines are worth the price of admission alone.
The rest of the cast members nail their roles: from Woody Harrelson as the manic gangster to Tom Waits as a rabbit-toting psychopath. Every actor commits to McDonagh’s compelling vision, and what an odd vision it is. The characters complain about movies being too violent, but there is so much over-the-top bloodshed throughout the movie. Hans complains that Marty’s script possesses no strong female characters, but in this film, the only two female characters have one scene of screen time apiece and very little dialogue. Billy says that Marty’s script has to end with a shootout, and that’s how this film ends. In a very self-aware way, McDonagh made Marty’s writing project into this very feature. Such a metafilm would often run the risk of alienating the viewer and distancing itself from the characters, but with this movie, McDonagh tactfully merges the metacommentary with his dark sense of humor and ultimately creates a compelling feature.
After a single viewing, the only downside of this film is the runtime. At almost two hours, the film tends to sag during some of Marty’s explanations of his screenplay. In these scenes, Marty narrates individual psychopath characters in his script. The characters in these scenes serve no purpose to the main plot but to merely enhance McDonagh’s meta message. These scenes disrupt the flow of the film and take the viewer away from the immersive experience that is the central action. By removing these scenes, the film’s pace would have been brisker and the film would have better maintained its impressive highpoints. This is but a small complaint, however, about a film with so many layers that it will almost certainly require multiple viewings.