The second feature film for writer and director Martin McDonagh and also a reunion for him, stars Colin Farrell and Zeljko Ivanek from his brilliant ‘In Bruges’, one of my favourite ever films. Here we get a more expanded scope of vision from the Irish playwright/film director as America becomes his land to play with. The beauty of his craftsmanship with language is never lost though and it works just as brilliantly in this larger setting with larger actions.
In Los Angeles, a story of a struggling alcoholic screenwriter called Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) takes place. His idea is titled Seven Psychopaths and with the mostly unrequired help from his crazy friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) he finds a serial killer in the paper leading him to come up with more thoughts for other psychopaths to include in his writing. Billy makes matters worse when his dognapping scheme with crime partner Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken) leads him to take a Shih Tzu belonging to a feared and violent gangster called Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). The story of both the actual movie and Marty’s movie unravel as Costello comes after them.
Martin McDonagh is a fantastic writer and this movie shows off that style he has in bucket loads. He knows how to employ language to bring about laughs but keep that brooding sense of danger and darkly brooding violence just under the skin. McDonagh takes hold of this bigger world of LA and stirs up his trademark fairy tale like worrying wonder in the explorations of each psychopath presented to us during the film. The flashbacks or cutaway moments where we see the killers being told to us are detailed so well that you buy into the stories and each one becomes rich and engrossing. McDonagh is a master of language and the dialogue throughout this film is sharp and spot on in setting up the ways of Hollywood violence and the layout of movies while all the time mixing up imagery of satire, violence and comedy. Where ‘In Bruges’ was more tightly focused on building character this film unwinds more to try and delve into the actions of characters.
The story itself is extremely interesting and funny with the necessary dose of bloody goings on. The unravelling story of who the psychopaths are themselves is a tool that keeps the audience engaged and guessing which runs alongside the inner narrative of Marty’s writing problems and the dognapping thread nicely. There are a few little twists and turns in the duration of this movie that make it even tastier as you get hit with something unexpected, though the reveal of the anticipated seventh psychopath is perhaps quite obvious though the additional information of who they are is another twist laid on to really shock you, or at least it did me. The comment on women in particular is a nice touch that Marty says they have it hard and in this movie, boy do they. When Hans is saying that his script kills of the women too quickly it becomes more of a way to say how the majority of films truly do use women as the victims or sexually seen objects and during this movie it cleverly sets up Olga Kurylenko and Abbie Cornish as these figures.
In terms of the look of the film it comes across well, especially the later desert scenes that are captured with a gritty yet beautiful eye by Ben Davis, the cinematographer. A mountain of crooked rocks adorned with a cross becomes a shadowy wondrous religious image for a shootout that Billy wishes for. The emptiness of the desert works in giving room for a big ending and letting the characters breathe in the final stages of the movie. The style of the flashbacks are effective in being detailed and bloody enough to tell their tales. The cutaway segment of Billy’s idea to have Marty’s script end in a psychopathic showdown is epic and typical of Hollywood grand scale action sequences but here it becomes funny as it is so over the top that it spoofs the unnecessary tropes of Hollywood endings being big and violent.
Colin Farrell is a better actor than I think he gets credit for, or at least in Martin McDonagh collaborations he demonstrates a knack of comedy and seriousness that attach you to his characters. Woody Harrelson can deliver that cutting edge of drama needed for this unnerving gangster but he is a funny man too and he shows that off when reacting mostly to the loss of his dog. Christopher Walken is just sublime and he carries that ease of dialogue delivery with such conviction that you always get transfixed by his words. His non violent nature in this film lead to further discoveries and he sells the character really well. I believe that Sam Rockwell steals the show as the deranged yet hilariously scatterbrained friend and dognapper. It’s a performance that is sometimes annoying, then dark, then funny and then other feelings. It’s a meaty role delightfully and gleefully tucked into by Rockwell.
The only issues I had with ‘Seven Psychopaths’ were a post credit scene that felt hinged on and yes it deals with something to do with the fate of a character but it didn’t have to be there. Also as the main film itself goes on it starts getting a tad too average as if the peak of what came before is losing the momentum in what’s to follow. It is a clever film utilising satire but it can feel too much as a lot of ideas come to the fore and inevitably come to a head.
Still, a visual and lyrical treat with an all American backdrop to satisfy the wonders and darkness of violence and murder. An entertaining story with clever notes and great acting that do enough to keep you lost in a land of offbeat action driven fun.