Review: 'Seven Psychopaths' Delivers Plenty of Shocks and Laughs
by Jeremy Kirk
October 12, 2012
In playwright Martin McDonagh's new film Seven Psychopaths, the lead character is a screenwriter named Martin who's writing a movie called Seven Psychopaths. McDonagh appears to be dealing with some catharsis in his outrageously funny and wickedly fun comedy, and the In Bruges writer/director proves he has more than one trick up his sleeve in dealing with engaging characters and twisted tales that put guilty smiles on the viewer's face. Seven Psychopaths does precisely that, overcoming a surface-level approach to its own eccentric nature to offer a film that has just as many laughs as it does shocks. Read on!
The Martin in the film, played by Colin Farrell, is struggling with his screenplay. He has a title. He has one psychopath plotted out. Beyond that, it's miles and miles of a blank page. He finds solace in his quirky, con artist friends, Billy and Hans played by Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken, respectively, but the friendship soon becomes another conflict in Martin's life as the buddies indirectly get him embroiled in the ire of a gangster played by Woody Harrelson. The two, whose latest scam involves them stealing rich peoples' pets then returning them for the reward, have dog-napped the gangster's prize Shih Tzu, an act that sets in motion waves of violence and strange left turns. Later on Tom Waits shows up carrying a white rabbit, so you know things get crazy.
In a year where black comedies like Killer Joe and Klown dare you to laugh at them, Seven Psychopaths is a black comedy that invites you to enjoy its humor. It's a different kind of darkness that's found in the comedy here, always falling far more into a territory of the ridiculous than McDonagh's first film. It's just as sharply written as In Bruges, particularly when it comes to the dialogue. McDonagh proves once again his craftsmanship when it comes to smart, rapid conversation between his characters, something made very apparent right in the film's opening moments where Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg as low-level gangsters chat while waiting on a hit. The whip-smart writing kicks in at the beginning and never lets up.
But though the dialogue is sharp and the characters intriguing, obvious moments of the film trying too hard spring up here and there, as if McDonagh's desire to pull of his film's fantastic nature overpowers any realism he can inject into the characters. Yes, it's explained why Tom Waits shows up with a white rabbit, but you get the impression the writer/director came at this particular element from a visual point first, wanting to grab the viewer with how crazy it is, then engineered a reasoning for it into the screenplay afterwards. Harrelson's gangster is little more than a one-note sadistic killer who only finds love in his dog.
Thankfully, Seven Psychopaths is a film loaded with brilliant actors who find their way through the small, murky pockets in McDonagh's screenplay and end up fleshing their individual characters out better than even the writer has. Chief among these are Rockwell and Walken, who appear in many of the same scenes together and end up stealing every one from the other like a back and forth game of tag. Farrell and the rest of the cast hold their own for the most part, but you end up holding your breath for the moments when either of the two secondary characters show back up.
Rockwell is on fire as the low-life Billy, a man who wants to find his own success and is willing to piggy-back on his screenwriter friend's latest work if and when it becomes a success. But Billy is a character McDonagh builds good and bad sides into, and the marriage of a shades-of-gray character and Rockwell's breathtaking chameleon skills make him a fully developed player here. Walken, in much the same way, brings the power of his character to an emotional bubbling point, the only true moments of the film that bring a powerful resonance coming from Hans. The actor behind it has always been one who plays the part how he sees fit, and Walken's portrayal here is both touching and hysterical, a real breath of fresh drama finding its way into an outrageous and increasingly twisted plot.
McDonagh never really makes it clear how the title works in the confines of either the story at hand or the story the Martin in the film is writing. Some of the seven are from Martin's screenplay, others come from the actual world around him, but this too is minor flaw that's easily excused for the sake of effective humor and even more effective moments of darkness. Seven Psychopaths never feels as polished or finely tuned as In Bruges, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the funniest comedies of the year highlighted by two daring but gleefully entertaining performances from Rockwell and Walken. Those two psychopaths are worth the price of admission all on their own.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10