Martin McDonagh, 2012
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits
Marty, an alcoholic screenwriter, is struggling to write the script for his current project, Seven Psychopaths, which is already overdue. His loyal friend Billy, an actor/con artist, tries to inspire him by telling him stories and by placing an ad in the local paper “calling all psychos.” One of the first psychos, Zachariah, responds to the ad and tells them his story. He and his wife are vigilante killers that travel the country and brutally murder serial killers and other very bad men. But he and his wife have split up and he is desperate to find her and get her back. One of Billy's side jobs includes stealing dogs with his friend Hans, then returning the pooches and accepting the reward money to cover hospital bills for Hans’ sick wife. When Billy accidentally/on purpose captures a mob boss’s adorable Shih Tzu, the shit hits the fan and Billy, Marty and Hans are forced to drive into the desert and go into hiding.
While Seven Psychopaths is basically a flawed attempt at taking a new look at the crime genre, it is way more interesting than anything else you are likely to see in the theater this year (or probably next). In general, I enter any film written, directed and produced by the same person with a healthy dose of skepticism. When said person also casts a stand-in of themselves as the main character, it is usually a recipe for disaster, but Irish playwright and In Brughes (2008) writer and director Martin McDonagh overcame my trepidations with this witty, imaginative tale about a struggling screenwriter. At its heart, Seven Psychopaths is a film about the importance of storytelling - the fictional stories that entertain and distract us, the stories we tell about ourselves that shape our identities, and the stories we live, weave, and retell with friends.
Known for his dark comedies, McDonagh has crafted a film that is part comedy, part gritty crime film, and part buddy-road trip movie. His somewhat unpredictable, blood-soaked plot is bolstered by some very strong performances, namely Sam Rockwell, who completely steals the film with an almost overly energetic performance. Christopher Walken gives one of his best performances, never falling into predictable Walken territory, and refusing to caricaturize himself. Colin Farrell, whom I usually find intolerable, let himself step into the background of the film as the empathetic, believable Marty. Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits are both delightful, as always. Waits was the real reason I wanted to see this film and he does not disappoint.
Though enjoyable and unpredictable, Seven Psychopaths is flawed, partly because it beats you over with the head with the fact that it is self-aware, intelligent, and clever. While the film is fun and purposefully defies expectation, it is simply too meta for it’s own good. Adaptation had similar problems, but reached heights of storytelling grace and depths of horrible annoyance that Seven Psychopaths does not, fortunately so in the latter category. The existentially rambling third act gets stuck questioning whether or not violent is appropriate, illustrated by the slightly ham-fisted stories of the Vietnamese monk and revenge-fueled Quaker.
Overall I recommend the film. It is certainly one of my favorites of 2012 and is a brave attempt at challenging genre, more of which needs to be seen in American cinema. Plus Tom Waits and fluffy bunnies. And that adorable Shih Tzu, who, for the record, does not get shot.