Oh Martin, why must you fly so close to the sun?
Let me back up a bit. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Seven Psychopaths for quite some, and last night I finally got the chance. I was a huge fan of director Martin McDonagh’s previous film, In Bruges, and the trailers for his followup featured the same sort of Tarantino-esque mix of dark comedy and violence that so few directors have been able to adequately pull off over the last two decades. Add on an amazing cast and an amusing premise and all of the ingredients for a great movie were present. Unfortunately, Seven Psychopaths becomes perfect proof that you truly can have too many good things when it comes to packing this many characters together into the same two hours. Seven Psychopaths is a an ambitiously complex film that occasionally hits the marks it is aiming for, but it is too crowded and inconsistent to measure up to other movies in the genre.
Marty (Colin Farrell) is suffering from writers block. His screenplay he is currently working on has little more to it than a title, “Seven Psychopaths”, and so far he has only come up with one of the psychopaths. Fortunately, when you’re friends with Billy (Sam Rockwell), real life offers no shortage of inspiration on that front. Billy is a neurotic, filthy mouthed actor who runs a dog “borrowing” business on the side with his friend Hans (Christopher Walken),
kidnapping dogs from their wealthy owners and returning them to collect the rewards. Unfortunately, on particular Shih Tzu that they borrow belongs to hyper-violent mob boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson), and being the incompetent criminals that they are, Hans and Billy aren’t that hard to find. Once Charlie and Co. catch up to them, Marty gets caught up in the ordeal and receives some first hand experiences of the psychopaths he has had so much difficulty in creating for his movie.
The film’s main issue in this area is that there are simply too many characters that show up to briefly to make any contribution to the story, leaving me wondering why some of them were even included in the first place. Marty is perfectly fine as the alcoholic, pacifist victim-of-circumstance, but like most of Paul Rudd’s characters he’s much more of a normal guy surrounded by interesting people than anything really substantial all of his own. Billy really annoyed me at first, but as the movie went on and a couple key developments were made to his character I felt like he fit a lot better into the
scheme of things. It helps that Rockwell does a really great job of emphasizing these developments as the last half of the movie rolls around. Walken is also as good as ever here, and he adds to Hans an equal mix of grief, quirkiness and quiet rage that made me enjoy him the most out of the three. Last up in amount of screen time is Harrelson, who’s teary-eyed devotion to his dog is starkly contrasted by his brutal nature towards his fellow human beings. Charlie was amusing at times and served as a decent opposing force for the film, but he just wasn’t developed enough for me to really click with his character like I did with Ralph Fiennes in In Bruges.
Here we come to the characters that beg the question “Why Bother?” first up we have Abbie Cornish as Marty’s Australian girlfriend Kaya, who’s only thing to do in the movie is to be talked about by Billy and Marty. Next up we have Tom Waits as Zachariah, an old man who shows up at Marty’s door in response to an ad Billy posted in the paper to help him with inspiration for his movie. Zachariah shows up with his white rabbit, tells Marty his story, and then doesn’t resurface until a tacked on after-credits scene. Finally and most bewilderingly we have Olga Kurylenko as Angela, Charlie’s girlfriend, who literally only shows up in ONE scene. Not only that, but she does nothing particularly interesting in that scene. Now I understand the concept of a cameo, and there are similarly brief appearances here by Harry Dean Stanton (Alien) and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) that I didn’t have an issue with, but the problem with Zachariah, Kaya and Angela is that they are on the Goddamn poster on the same level as the main four characters. Especially in Zachariah’s case, it feels like these fringe characters are there to lead us in a direction that isn’t followed up on, and it results in an undue amount of confusion for the audience.
I’ll start here on the small scale of dialogue and work my way up to plot mechanics. I mentioned Tarantino in McDonagh’s writing style above, because in a lot of ways McDonagh feels like he’s trying to emulate the Director’s work. This worked fabulously in In Bruges but for some reason his dialogue feels like it’s missing some of that spark in Seven Psychopaths. Marty, Billy and Hans have some fairly memorable back and forth’s and Billy becomes very fun to watch as the movie draws to a close, but nobody has the sort of chemistry that Farrell and Gleeson had in In Bruges Jackson and Travolta had in Pulp Fiction.
On a broader level, Seven Psychopaths tries very hard to be elaborate and symbolic, and it just doesn’t quite work. There are a lot of scenes that play out in Marty’s head as he tries to think of characters for his screenplay, and several of these stories do succeed in becoming compelling diversions from the main plot. The problem is, they felt too disconnected from the plot to make the effect really work. On paper it all sounds good, with the stories in Marty’s head being developed by the actual psychopaths real life has thrown his way. On screen though, it came across as dangerously close to self-parody.
The Verdict: 7.0/10 Good
Seven Psychopaths isn’t anything to write home about and isn’t nearly as profound as it wants to be, but if you think you’d enjoy a somewhat headier take on dark comedy I would definitely give it a shot. I know plenty of other reviewers who have looked at it more favorably than me, and it is entirely possible that you will see something far more deep and meaningful than I did. As far as I go though, I couldn’t help but be disappointed at the end of the movie by how little of an impact it left on me.
P.S. I know I mention In Bruges a lot in this review but that’s only because it’s amazing…
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 8.5/10
Fast Film Reviews: 3/5