Director: Martin McDonagh
The poster for Seven Psychopaths boasts an assortment of random characters standing around, and some of them are clearly psychotic. No-one does psychos like Woody Harrelson, and Tom Waits stroking a rabbit is all kinds of creepy, but without a context this poster’s just a random jumble. Alas, the same can be said of the film, as writer/director Martin McDonagh succumbs to a filmic version of ‘difficult second album syndrome’ after the success of In Bruges.
Colin Farrell plays Marty, an LA-based screenwriter struggling with writer’s block. Marty is McDonagh’s stand-in for himself in this equation, although judging by the rest of the characters in this film, we’ll hope that’s where the comparisons end. There’s something admirable in turning one’s writer’s block into a screenplay in and of itself. However, Seven Psychopaths is less a script and more a hodge-podge of ideas scrambling over each other for oxygen. Marty’s best pal Billy (Sam Rockwell) runs a scheme with Hans (Christopher Walken) to con dog owners out of reward money after kidnapping their dogs. Unfortunately, they kidnap a shih-tzu belonging to Charlie (Harrelson), a mobster with something of an anger management problem, and all hell breaks loose. Meanwhile, Marty’s struggling to write his new script (imaginatively titled ‘Seven Psychopaths’) and a masked hitman is killing Mafia types all over the city. If you’re confused at this synopsis, the film won’t make it much clearer.
There’s a lot to like in Seven Psychopaths, but there’s just as much to grate the nerves. On the plus side, it’s got a slick and sunny look, and there’s more than a few scenes to give pause for thought (the tale of a vengeful Amish man [Harry Dean Stanton]being a haunting standout). McDonagh has also put together a classy cast, a mix of straight faces and pure nutjobs. Rockwell is especially good, walking a fine line between straight and unhinged with hellzapoppin’ energy. Walken is as eye-poppingly odd as ever, but Harrelson and Waits (as another of the psychopaths with a dark tale to tell) give him a run for his money. If anything though, they’re a little too OTT. Harrelson is best when going ape whilst on a short leash, but he’s allowed to go too far here, and it makes for an unsavoury experience. Meanwhile, Marty is a pretty blank slate and Farrell is rendered forgettable next to the insanity around him.
If McDonagh is not keeping his actors in check, it’s because he needs something to plug the gap where his plot should be. The script keeps jumping back and forth between Marty’s script efforts, the revenge of the shih-tzu owning Mafia nutzoid and various side plots which are only attempts to shoehorn in either emotion or clever lines. Olga Kurylenko and Abbie Cornish have about two minutes of screentime between them, and McDonagh references this fact late into the film. However, acknowledging the faults in your script is not enough to fix them. Sure, there is some clever dialogue and some utterly uproarious scenes (such as the blissfully deranged scene in which Marty, Billy and Hans act out a potential climax to Marty’s stalled script), but it’s all lacking the cohesive context of a set script. The bittiness of the plot also denies Seven Psychopaths the emotional resonance of In Bruges, even though Hans’ backstory gets shoved in our faces as a purported emotional backbone.
Watching Seven Psychopaths, it feels as if Martin McDonagh was given a large budget on the presumption he’d deliver another In Bruges, but he failed to separate out all the plots in his head to make a single solid script. There’s simply too much going on here, albeit with some gems littered amongst the chaos. One character observes, ‘Psychopaths get kinda tiresome after a while, don’tcha think?’ In this instance, it’s hard not to concur.