To say I was impatient for “Seven Psychopaths,” McDonagh’s follow-up, would be putting it mildly, even though I knew it was going to be almost impossible for the movie to live up to fans’ sky-high expectations. Of course, the intelligent filmmaker anticipated this and adjusted his work accordingly. While McDonagh’s latest — which reunites him with Farrell — is still bleak, hilarious and brutally violent, he addresses the concept of film violence itself in a wonderfully weird and meta fashion.
Farrell plays an alcoholic screenwriter named Martin, who is struggling to come up with a decent plot for his latest movie. He’s got a great title — “Seven Psychopaths” — but he can’t figure out how to make the story live up to the expectations that kind of name evokes. (See? McDonagh is winking at the audience from the start.)
Leave it to Martin’s oddball friends to provide him with some inspiration. Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) have a seemingly ingenious criminal enterprise going on. They kidnap dogs, wait until someone puts up reward posters and then return the pooch to a grateful owner who forks over a handful of cash. In theory, it’s almost a victimless crime. Sure, the pet owner’s out a few bucks, but she’s so grateful for her dog’s return that she doesn’t care.
The scheme is going smoothly until the dimwitted Billy takes things too far. He screws up and kidnaps an unstable gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu. The guy has no problem murdering random people in cold blood, so imagine what he’s going to do to somebody he’s really mad at. Pretty soon, Martin has more than enough inspiration for his new movie; the big question is whether he’ll survive long enough to write it.
“Seven Psychopaths” will gain plenty of admirers, but writers are going to be its biggest fans. Anyone who has struggled through the creative process should find plenty to laugh and groan about in equal measure. The interaction with violent thugs and fear of imminent death won’t ring a bell with too many authors (hopefully), but the literalized terror of writer’s block should be familiar to anyone who has stared at an empty computer screen for far too long.
McDonagh’s deceptively simple plot is far more than just the story of a crazy gangster who wants his dog back. It acts as window dressing for a deeper meditation on filmmaking itself, particularly the industry’s reliance on violence as an easy way to solve problems like clichéd plots, poorly written female characters and a dependency on the Final Shootout in a Cool Place.
For example, the movie’s marketing leads audiences to believe that Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko have prominent roles. In actuality, their characters barely factor into the story — a discrepancy McDonagh slyly comments on. He does something similar with a hooker (Christine Marzano) in Martin’s script who starts out as an idiotic stereotype and slowly morphs into someone quite different.
Performance-wise, everyone delivers solid work playing characters that have to work on multiple levels. Farrell is essentially playing a fictional version of McDonagh, commenting on real-world movies while at the same time being a part of one. Rockwell emerges as the flick’s MVP, stealing every scene he’s in and earning the biggest laughs. Walken is also terrific, getting several opportunities to be creepy, funny and heartbreaking, often simultaneously.
McDonagh packs the film with familiar faces, all of whom make the most of their limited screen time. Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton are particularly memorable, while Zeljko Ivanek takes a standard henchman role and elevates it. And that’s not even mentioning the opening scene, featuring a couple of cameo appearances that quickly establish the movie’s oddball tone.
As the title suggests, “Seven Psychopaths” isn’t for everyone. There’s a ton of graphic violence, along with unsavory characters who use plenty of four-letter words and crude terms for women, minorities, gays and every other demographic you can think of. But those who understand the satirical manner in which these terrible images and words are being displayed should find much to appreciate in what McDonagh is trying to say.
“Seven Psychopaths” is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.