Review: Seven Psychopaths
by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
In 2008, writer/director/producer Martin McDonagh released In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. Despite an underwhelming box office performance, the film found success among critics and as a cult favorite after its home format release. Four years later, McDonagh is back and once again teaming with Colin Farrell for another black-dramedy, Seven Psychopaths.
There’s a “post-Tarantino” vibe to Seven Psychopaths. In the wake of Pulp Fiction‘s release, there were a lot of copycats (some good, some bad), but all seeking to emulate the rhythms of Tarantino’s pivotal motion picture. Seven Psychopaths has that feel. Many of the elements that made Pulp Fiction such a memorable experience are present in Seven Psychopaths: witty dialogue, humor derived from brutality, bursts of violence, and Christopher Walken. There’s also some gratuitous nudity and another delightfully nasty performance from the once-squeaky clean Woody Harrelson.
Seven Psychopaths interweaves “reality” with “fantasy” by depicting segments of a screenplay-within-the-screenplay. Marty (Colin Farrell) is an alcoholic, would-be screenwriter who is suffering with a case of writer’s block while developing his latest project, a story about psychopaths that he doesn’t want to be about violence. His best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), offers to help, But Marty is protective of his work. Billy earns a living by kidnapping dogs that are momentarily left unattended by their owners, then returning them and claiming the reward money. He is helped in this scheme by Hans (Christopher Walken), a deeply religious man with a cancer-stricken wife. The seemingly random kidnapping of a Shih Tzu named Bonny puts Billy, Hans, and Marty in danger. Bonny is the beloved pet of gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson) and he is none-too-pleased about losing his dog. Meanwhile, at large is a serial killer who goes by the name of The Jack of Diamonds and makes his name by killing hit men and murderers.
Seven Psychopaths probably gives us more than seven twisted killers… it’s really hard to keep track. Is Hans one? Depends. Christopher Walken has some good Christopher Walken moments, including one of the final thirty minutes. Sam Rockwell’s deadpan, off-kilter humor allows Billy to be unpredictable enough to share the screen with Walken’s Hans. Woody Harrelson, in another bad-to-the-bone performance, brings an element of redneck charm to vicious, conscienceless Charlie. Colin Farrell has the unenviable job of playing the “straight man.” One reason the final segment of Seven Psychopaths doesn’t work is because it focuses on Marty, who’s not a lot of fun.
Seven Psychopaths contains frequent self-referential moments, some of which are clever and some of which are too obvious. There are a lot of big laughs at unexpected times, not entirely unlike the moment in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta accidentally shoots a guy in the backseat of the car, spraying blood and brains over everything. The disappointment is that all of the wonderful, twisted fun comes to an unexpected end well before the movie is over. To say more would be to ruin the last 30-45 minutes of the film, and I won’t be one to do that my dear reader. Needless to say, the story feels as if it comes to a standstill and the final showdown is much too anticlimactic.
The lack of consistency in Seven Psychopaths is frustrating and disappointing. Had the film been able to maintain its initial tone and energy level throughout, it would have been a compelling and memorable experience. As it is, it’s an illustration of how it’s just as important to have a solid ending as an attention-catching beginning. But the film is at it is, and unfortunately, it won’t be remembered with the other great psychopaths before it’s time.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars