Martin McDonagh returns with his follow-up to In Bruges, but does his new movie live up to the bar he set with that debut feature?
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Written by Martin McDonagh
Cinematography by Ben Davis
Music Composed by Carter Burwell
Michael Pitt ... Larry
Michael Stuhlbarg ... Tommy
Sam Rockwell ... Billy
Colin Farrell ... Marty
Abbie Cornish ... Kaya
Christopher Walken ... Hans
Linda Bright Clay ... Myra
Harry Dean Stanton ... Man in Hat
Joseph Lyle Taylor ... Al
Kevin Corrigan ... Dennis
Woody Harrelson ... Charlie
Gabourey Sidibe ... Sharice
Zeljko Ivanek ... Paulo
Tom Waits ... Zachariah
Olga Kurylenko ... Angela
Runtime: 109 min
MPAA: Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use Official Website
Seven Psychopaths is a movie that wears its influences on its sleaves. It is clearly obvious that Martin McDonagh is a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino, but that has been true for years. He was called at one time the "Quentin Tarantino of the Stage" when he went on to win a number of awards for his stage plays, many of which expected his audience to sympathize with the most amoral characters possible.
He took his first step into the movie world with the short film Six Shooter in 2004, a film that won him the Academy Awards for Best Short Narrative Film. I had a chance to watch the film at the time when all the Oscar short nominees became available on iTunes and was impressed at his visual prowess. Brendan Gleeson stars as a man on a train trip after his wife dies and some very strange situations he encounters on his way home. It was a calling card and McDonagh proved skillful enough to get his first real movie, which turned out to be the Gleeson and Colin Farrell gangster film, In Bruges.
With that film, he brought his amoral characters back to the big screen where some bad guys had to fight other bad guys, and honestly there was not a sympathetic character in the bunch. It was also quite brilliant and earned McDonagh an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. With Seven Psychopaths, he picks up right where he left off.
The movie opens with a scene that could have been pulled straight from a Tarantino movie, and bears a strong resemblance to the Big Mac speech from Pulp Fiction. Two hit-men (Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg) stand on a bridge, waiting to kill the girlfriend of a high level crime boss. As they wait, they carry on a conversation about killing someone by shooting them between the eyes and whether that is a difficult task or not. As they discuss this matter, a masked figure walks up behind them and shoots them both in the head.
This starts a movie that seems almost like a series of vignettes and stories, tied together by an overall narrative arc. Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) are low level conmen, stealing people's dogs and then returning them for rewards to make money to help Hans pay for his wife's cancer treatments. Billy's best friend is Marty (Colin Farrell), who is a screenwriter trying to write his new movie, titled Seven Psychopaths. Billy, just as he steals dogs to help Hans with the cancer treatment payments, also wants to help Marty overcome some writer's block and finish his new screenplay.
The screenplay relates to the story at hand because Marty needs to come up with seven different psychopaths for the script, and Billy shows him the newspaper that tells the story of the serial killer whose victims are low level mobsters, the killer we see in the beginning of the film. While helping Marty with this problem, Billy and Hans kidnap a dog that belongs to the same mobster that ordered the hit from the beginning of the film.
Woody Harrelson plays Charlie, this psychopathic gangster, and he is amazing in the role. Much like his portrayal of Mickey Knox, he is completely in control of all situations, however here he finds himself completely lost when his beloved dog ends up missing. Unlike his girlfriend, who he doesn't really like, his dog means the world to him. He threatens to kill the woman tasked with walking the dog and ends up rotating between grieving and anger throughout the movie.
On the other side, all three of the men we are asked to follow are very well written. Sam Rockwell is the star here, a man who wants to help his friends so much that he will do pretty much anything for them. I heard a complaint after the film that his character didn't ring true, but I disagree because he was the perfect balance of a loyal friend and an enthusiastic collaborator. This was another brilliant performance by the actor.
Colin Farrell took the backseat here and played the straight man, someone thrown into a crazy situation that he had no control over. We see this entire story play out from his point of view and he is just as much along for the ride as the viewers are.
This brings me to Christopher Walken, who was the highlight of the movie. He was the most low key character in the film, but was also someone that had something bubbling just beneath the surface. He was kind and quiet, a very considerate person, but there was a ticking clock inside his head and it was clear he could blow at any minute. He also had the best lines of the movie and was the perfect comedy relief in a movie filled with absurd comic violence.
Tom Waits also had a cameo role in the film, and while he had little to do with the story, he remains one of the highlights. Credit also has to go to Zeljko Ivanek, as basically this was an actor's movie with some of the best overall performances of the year.
The story is offensive and violent, but absurdly funny at the same time. It may not be to everyone's tastes, but for anyone who loved McDonagh's debut film, In Bruges, should love this one as well.
The 411: Overall, Seven Psychopaths was a mixture of McDonagh's In Bruges and The Big Lebowski. It was darkly funny, brilliantly written and had some of the best performances possible by some really talented actors. It is also highly offensive, very violent and extremely funny. If you just want to have a great time at the movies, this is the film you need to see.