Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths (DVD Review)
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Martin McDonagh may not be a household name, but he certainly should be. Anyone who saw his brilliant debut feature “In Bruges” knows that he’s an excellent writer and director. The guy had even already won an Oscar for a short film he made just a few years prior. This led to a lot of anticipation as to what he was going to do next, which brings us to “Seven Psychopaths.” From the title alone, your imagination begins to wonder what a man like McDonagh would come up with to fit it. While you may imagine a wild story to fit the bill, my suggestion would be not to let your imagination run too wild, or else you just might be disappointed with the result.
Marty (Colin Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter who is trying to put together his latest project, a script called “Seven Psychopaths.” The problem is, he only has one psychopath in mind to start with. His friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), tries to help him out by giving him an idea, one that Marty actually decides to use. Meanwhile, we learn that Billy and another friend, Hans (Christopher Walken), are in the business of kidnapping dogs and returning them to their owners for a reward. Things are going quite well, that is until they unknowingly kidnap a dog belonging to a psychotic gangster, Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Charlie absolutely adores his dog and will do anything to get her back, which causes Marty, Billy, and Hans to go on the run in hopes of avoiding a deadly confrontation.
This is a film that starts off with an interesting idea and a clichéd character. It’s interesting to have to come up with seven characters who are crazy enough to be put into a screenplay called “Seven Psychopaths,” but we also have to put up with the old “struggling screenwriter” bit that we’ve seen several times before. If we concentrate on the former, we can hope for a fascinating character piece as the different psychopaths are introduced. Indeed, some of them are rather interesting characters who are part of their own intriguing stories, such as the one about the stalking Quaker who wants revenge for his daughter’s murder.
There’s another story that tells of a Vietnamese man who is trying to get revenge for the death of his family, but unfortunately, his story doesn’t get anywhere until near the end. Coming back to reality, all we really have to follow is a silly plot about a gangster’s dog being kidnapped. This acts as the thin thread holding the movie together, as well as a foundation that allows us to escape into some of the characters’ imaginations every once in a while.
This leads to a rather crowded first half as McDonagh jumps around between all of these different characters and ideas that he’s trying to introduce to us rather quickly. He tries to get us to care about the main characters going through this bizarre dognapping plot, but unfortunately, the characters aren’t particularly interesting or well-written. I’ve already mentioned we have a clichéd struggling screenwriter, but we also have his buddy, Billy, who’s just a nutcase as he does one random thing after another. Then we come to Hans, who, apart from some compelling scenes involving his wife, just seems like he’s wandering aimlessly through the film.
Then the second half rolls around, where McDonagh seems like he’s trying to be too clever for his own good. He has his characters openly tell us how the second half is going to proceed by having one of them argue about how the script should just be the characters going out to the desert and talking, while another can’t believe that there’s not going to be a big shootout at the end. So, of course, we get a major inkling that there’s going to be both going on, and that’s exactly what we end up getting.
This wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing, that is, if the characters actually had something interesting to talk about to pass the time, but alas, they don’t, which is a rather big disappointment from the man whose Oscar-nominated screenplay for “In Bruges” was crackling with great dialogue all the way through. This leads to an eventual standoff, as we knew had to occur, but there’s been such little reason to care up to this point, that it ends up leaving very little impact.
It’s not all bad though. In fact, the performances end up going a long way. Farrell may be playing a clichéd character, but he does it pretty well, particularly when he’s describing the characters he wants to put in his screenplay. Rockwell’s character may do a lot of random things, but who better to bring out that zaniness than he? Walken is always a delight to see, despite his character not having very much to do here. However, he does get the best part at the end as he describes his own take on one of Marty’s characters.
This is a film with a lot of interesting elements to it, but sadly it just never comes together. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s a mess, but the structure of it could have used a bit of an overhaul that would allow the first half to flow a little smoother and the second half to be a little more engaging than it turned out to be. McDonagh has shown that he is a great writer, but “Seven Psychopaths” simply leaves one with the feeling that he was the struggling screenwriter here.
Looking at the DVD itself, the film is presented in a 2.40: 1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents a clear image throughout the film. There are several scenes that take place at night, but we always get a picture that is sharp and easy to see. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio is loud and clear. This is one that you don’t even have to turn up a lot to be able to hear. As far as these two departments go, everything is great.
The DVD comes with the following special features:
· Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths
· Crazy Locations
· Woody Harrelson is Charlie
· Colin Farrell is Marty
· Seven Psychocats
This may seem like a lot of special features, but it’s really not. These six featurettes run from about one to two minutes apiece, so right away you’re getting only about ten minutes worth of extras. Then you have to take into account that the last two on the list are completely pointless inclusions. “Layers” is just a random montage of footage from the film, while “Seven Psychocats” is one of the trailers for the film done with cats as the characters.
As for the other four featurettes, half of the footage is just clips from the film, so when you factor all of this in, you have somewhere in the area of under five minutes of actual extras that feature very quick interviews with the cast and crew. Unfortunately, they don’t say very much in the short time provided, so you don’t get to learn much about the film at all. All six of these featurettes are pretty much a waste of time. A commentary with Martin McDonagh could have done wonders here.
Overall, the film isn’t recommendable, despite having some fine performances and the beginnings of some interesting characters. When you couple that with the rather lame special features, it merely ends up making the whole DVD unrecommendable. Hopefully McDonagh will come back with a much stronger project next time. I’d hate to think that he only had one great feature in him, though it’s certainly not a bad one to be known for. This film might not have worked, but I still look forward to whatever he does next.
Special Features: 3/10
Overall Score: 5/10