Review: Seven Psychopaths
PLOT: A struggling screenwriter finds his life in danger when he becomes entangled in a dog-napping scheme perpetrated by his friend and his friend's odd associate.
REVIEW: Few things are as enjoyable to experience in a film as watching terrific actors being paired with a talented writer, and that's what happens in abundance in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, which is one of the year's most entertaining movies. It was written and directed by playwright Martin McDonagh, whose feature debut IN BRUGES was a similarly demented blood-soaked comedy with a surprising amount of heart and humanity, even while its characters are violent, anti-social, neurotic and, indeed, often psychopathic.
McDonagh goes a bit “meta” by framing his twisty, L.A.-set tale around a writer named Marty (Colin Farrell), who drinks more than he writes and is having difficulty with a project titled “Seven Psychopaths,” which he's got a title for and not much else, save for a handful of daffy vignettes – each focusing on a different psycho - that may or may not ultimately work for the film. Compounding Marty's issues are a girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) who is at the end of her rope with him and a best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), who is single-mindedly intent on helping Marty find inspiration for his script, and perhaps even co-writing it.
Billy is an actor, but that isn't explored much, perhaps because he's more invested in making money off of a dog-napping scheme he and his weirdo pal Hans (Christopher Walken) have cooked up: They'll kidnap a dog from a park, wait for the owner to offer a reward a few days later, then show up at their door, dog in tow. A relatively harmless scam up until the point where they nab Bonny, an adorable Shih Tzu belonging to the not-very-adorable Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), an emotionally unstable mobster who is instantly traumatized by the loss of his beloved pup. Charlie and his goons embark on a quest to retrieve the dog and make the kidnappers pay severely.
With this somewhat sitcom-y premise, McDonagh spins a thoroughly delightful yarn involving an assortment of imaginative tangents, flashbacks and odd sequences that aren't so much fantasy sequences as much as they are movies in the characters' minds playing out. When Rockwell's character gives his friends (and us the audience) his interpretation of how the big final confrontation with the mob is going to play out, it's an instant-classic of vividly violent ridiculousness. Can't recall laughing more during a scene this year, but there are a handful of other very memorable moments contained within the film, which is so affable and good-natured despite some incredibly grisly images. When McDonagh doesn't want your genuine laughter, he'll seek out your nervous laughter, and get it.
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS is at its best when it is simply letting the actors revel in the words given to them by McDonagh, who understands (in the same way Quentin Tarantino does) that a conversation between two or three splendid performers given engaging material can provide the same emotionally satisfying rush as an exciting action or suspense sequence. There's a palpable thrill to be felt when actors at the top of their game are simply nailing it, and the cast McDonagh has assembled are so perfectly matched with their respective characters and dialogue that it's often a thing of giddy beauty to watch them have fun with each other.
And the cast is ideal, to be sure. Farrell, reuniting with McDonagh after the director gave him the best role of his career in IN BRUGES, plays what is more or less the “straight man” in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, although his Marty is an alcoholic and somewhat self-pitying sort who seems destined to wind up in a bad circumstance not unlike this one. Rockwell is a complete force of nature; a wild and wily rascal whose loyalty to his friend is unhealthy for them both; the actor is at his most mischievous here, using his sunny disposition to hide a rather disturbed mind. And it is not doing a disservice to Christopher Walken to say that he is doing his very best “Christopher Walken.” Anyone fond of the actor's deliberate way of delivering his lines and his patented glare will be immensely pleased with Hans, who lives by a non-violent, existential code. Woody Harrelson, too, is at the top of his game as a villain who is just as quick to shed tears as he is to shed blood.
The rest of the ensemble is peppered with great faces: Tom Waits shows up as a bunny-loving psycho who answers a most unusual "help wanted" ad; Gabourey Sidibe has a funny cameo as the unlucky assistant who looses Charlie's dog; and Harry Dean Stanton has a silent but forceful role that is best left unexplained. Let's just say that the side-story he inhabits is one of SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS many wicked, unforgettable diversions.