“Seven Psychopaths” is about one funny screenplay writing process which is cheerfully juxtaposed with absurd humor and striking violence to shock you and then amuse you. As we follow its convoluted plot, it becomes apparent to us that it is dancing on the line between fiction and reality, and the movie, which is full of shocks and surprises I don’t dare to reveal, has lots of fun with many things including its inherent flaws which richly deserve the consequent self-criticism later in its story.
The title of the movie comes from an unfinished screenplay which has so far nothing but its very title at present. Marty(Colin Farrell), a struggling Hollywood screenplay writer who has a little problem with drinking(but he says he is not an alcoholic), has been trying to write a story about seven psychopaths, but this poor guy is still going nowhere without any good material for his idea, and he becomes more desperate as drinking more.
While Marty tries to fill his screenplay, the movie presents a number of odd, colorful characters one by one. His actor friend Billy Bickle(Sam Rockwell), who may remind you of the hero of “Taxi Driver”(1976) due to his last name, is willing to provide several good ideas of his to Marty, but then Marty finds himself being tumbled into a complicated situation mainly because of Billy’s part-time criminal business with his partner Hans(Christopher Walken). Billy and Hans steal pet dogs to get reward money from caring owners looking for their dogs, and their latest kidnapped dog, a cute shih tzu dog named Bonny, turns out to be owned by Charlie(Woody Harrelson), a vicious mob boss who will stop at nothing for getting back his dear dog. Considering his violent temper which makes an ironic contrast with his incorrigible affection toward his pet, Charlie may inspire a nice psychopath character for Marty’s screenplay – if Marty is lucky enough to get out of this dangerous trouble.
As the plot of the movie thickens, Marty’s screenplay also goes through development with more potentials. We get the moody story of a repentant killer who has been followed by someone patiently waiting for vengeance since his murder, and then we are introduced to a Vietnamese priest who is about to reach to the end of his vengeful journey. Some unknown guy keeps killing high-ranking gang members, and, as this case draws the attention of the local media, Billy suggests to Marty that this killer can be an interesting story material. In the case of a mysterious old guy named Zachariah(Tome Waits), his very violent life story comes with one of the most morbidly humorous scene in the film; I will not go into details for not spoiling your fun, but let’s say its sheer bizarreness will induce a couple of big laughs from you.
Because of its quirky mix of humor and violence, the movie surely reminds you a lot of the works by Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, but it has its own music to play, and the director/screenplay writer Martin McDonagh, who previously made a terrific directorial debut with “In Bruges”(2008), deftly tickles us with his playful game between reality and fiction. If you pay some attention to a number of details in the film such as how two different characters share similar mannerisms while indirectly mirroring each other at times, you will probably wonder whether the certain scenes in the movie are imagined during Marty’s ongoing writing process.
The movie frankly admits that aspect to us with ample humor from the beginning, and it even goes further during its second half as the story(or Martin’s screenplay, perhaps) switches its gear to a more contemplative mode which can be described as an existential brainstorming for Marty and others(and McDonagh, probably). The characters were introduced and then established, and then the plot has been developed nicely despite its visible problems which are thoughtfully and amusingly pointed out at one point, and now it really needs a good way to take care of everything which has been unfolded on its table.
During the second viewing of the film at last night, I appreciated more how McDonagh’s clever screenplay masterfully leads its story and characters into unexpected territories and then neatly goes back to where it started for the required ending. Humor and drama are always intertwined with each other in the interactions between its characters, and one of the good examples is an atypical case of Mexican Standoff during its climax part, which comes with a poignant outcome as following its inexorable logics.
The actors in the movie are enjoyable to watch, and they wonderfully capture the sly humor in McDonagh’s smart, self-conscious dialogues. While Colin Farrell, who previously collaborated with McDonagh in “In Bruges”, is a sane, likable center of the story, we have a bunch of interesting actors like Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Pitt, Zeljko Ivanek, Harry Dean Stanton, and Tom Waits. Through his irrepressible performance, Rockwell proves again that he is one of the most valuable character actors working in Hollywood, and Walken, who can easily switch between comedy and drama in his own uncanny screen presence, is particularly good during the scene involved with his character’s suggestion for Marty’s screenplay. That suggestion feels a little too preposterous when we reflect on it later, but Walken makes it work through his convincing delivery, so we can believe it for a while at least.
I must mention that good actresses like Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe, and Olga Kurylenko do not have many things to do in contrast while being merely treated as expendable secondary characters in the film, but I guess that aspect is intended as one of the jokes on its ‘flawed’ plot, and “Seven Psychopaths” is entertaining enough to overlook its minor ‘flaws’. Maybe it really needs more rewriting, but it is still a fun experience with that adorable dog you’d love to pat.