Colin Farrell, star of McDonagh’s similarly Tarantino-esque directorial debut In Bruges, plays Martin, an Irish screenwriter boozing his way through a bout of writer’s block. His latest screenplay has a killer name, Seven Psychopaths but he’s only gotten as far as the first of the title characters. McDonagh gleefully blurs the line between fiction and reality: every time the “real” film introduces a new crazyperson, for instance, a title like “First Psychopath” flashes on the screen, and so on.
The film’s ostensible plot involves Martin’s friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), an aspiring actor with a bouncing-off-the walls exuberance, who makes a living with a “dog-borrowing business.” In partnership with aging con man Hans (a cravat-wearing Christopher Walken), Billy snatches people’s canine companions so Hans can “innocently” return them a few days later for a reward. Trouble comes when they dog-nap a Shih-Tzu belonging to Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), a mobster with a hair-trigger temper, no regard for human life and a weepy devotion to his pet.
Actual plot involves Billy Bickle (Rockwell), actor with bouncing-off-the-walls exuberance, has a “dog borrowing business” with aging con man Hans (Christopher Walken) — kidnap people’s dogs and then “innocently” return them a few days later for reward. Trouble comes when they dognap a Shih-Tzu belonging to Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), some kind of mobster with a hair-trigger temper: the dog’s tag reads “Return to Charlie Costello or you will fucking die.”
Seven Psychopaths’ story outline only hints at the film’s hall-of-mirrors-style circular narrative and puckish references. For instance, Farrell’s character shares the first name of both Martin McDonagh and director Martin Scorsese, while Billy shares the last name of Travis Bickle, the antihero of Scorsese’s intense landmark film Taxi Driver. When Hans critiques Martin’s inability to write convincing women, he could be mocking McDonagh’s limitations as a writer (despite his compelling female roles in his stage plays like The Beauty Queen of Leenane).
Reasonably realistic portrayals of creative people on the fringe of showbiz collide share the screen with the kind of glamorous brutes you only see in movies. The film even features stories within the stories that prominently feature weathered cult icons Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton. Some of the meta-jokes run out of steam but Seven Psychopaths still requires multiple viewings to pick up on the inside gags, including the casting of Walken and Harrelson, both veterans of Tarantino-scripted films.
After Tarantino’s success with Pulp Fiction nearly two decades ago, other would-be auteurs flooded movie theaters with similar exercises in violence, self-conscious dialogue and pop references. What keeps Seven Psychopaths from feeling like a similarly empty exercise like 2 Days in the Valley or Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead is primarily McDonagh’s live-wire sense of humor, skillfully abetted by his cast. Rockwell hits a high-water mark as a loopy hipster, setting the tone for the film just as much as his character hijacks Martin’s screenplay. Walken caters to his off-kilter image, finding amusing new ways to pronounce words like “hallucination,” but also does justice to Hans as a loving husband with a rueful attitude towards his career decisions.
Throughout the film, Martin complains that he’d rather make a movie about peace and love than men with guns in their hands, and occasionally Seven Psychopaths hints at more profound human emotions than blood lust and the joy of laughter. The film’s more sensitive scenes ultimately serve as gravy, though, since Seven Psychopaths so entertainingly caters to the audience’s more basic impulses. At one point Martin wishes that his film could be life-affirming, and Martin scoffs, “Life-affirming, shmife-affirming! It’s about seven fucking psychopaths!”
Seven Psychopaths. 4 stars. Directed by Martin McDonagh. Stars Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell. Rated R. Opens Fri., Oct. 12. At area theaters.
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40 years of food for thought .... very worth reading.
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Mark @ 5:56, any proponent of a free press, no matter how bias, is going…