Seven Psychopaths (2012)

by - October 12th, 2012 - Movie Reviews


Gleefully Ghoulish Psychopaths Wildly Uneven

I have no idea what to make of Seven Psychopaths. I’m torn in two sitting somewhere between adoration and disappointment. The movie is funny, magnificently so at times, writer/director Martin McDonagh following up his almost instantly classic In Bruges with some of the more ghoulishly hysterical dialogue and situations fans of coal-black comedies are sure to delight in. But the point? The story? I’m not sure there is one, the filmmaker’s satire of Hollywood, celebrity, violence and friendship only vaguely coherent for most of its almost two-hour running time.

Seven Psychopaths (2012) | PHOTO: CBS Films

It is the story screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell). His latest script is a disheveled work-in-progress where only the title and a singular psychopath exists while the rest, including the remaining six protagonists, are barely figments of the author’s stagnant imagination. His best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) has plenty of ideas for more psychopaths and he’s eager to help his friend, even placing an ad in a trade magazine asking actual psychopaths for their personal stories. He also moonlights as a professional dognapper, working with his colleague Hans (Christopher Walken) to fleece unsuspecting pooch owners for their posted reward cash.

The pair’s latest target is one they probably should have left along. They’ve stolen the Shih Tzu of a notorious Los Angeles gangster (Woody Harrelson) and he’s not exactly content to let things work themselves out on their own. Instead, he wants vengeance, not caring for a second whether or not the flabbergasted Marty was in on the scam as his main goal, other than retrieving his prized pooch, is to see everyone involved riddled with bullet holes.

This premise barely takes up a third of the movie’s running time. The rest is filled with various side stories engineered to help fill Marty’s floundering screenplay. Most of them are fine for what they are, satisfyingly humorous and perverse. But the loosey-goosey structure, the way things feel disconnected from one scene to the next, all of it makes for a crazy viewing experience that can be deeply unsatisfying at the most inopportune times.

Still, I did laugh. McDonagh has a flair for going in unexpected directions, manufacturing images of shocking originality that’s one part Coen, two parts Mad Magazine and three parts malevolent inspiration flowing directly from the filmmaker’s own flippantly idiosyncratic brainpan. There was so much I never saw coming, and while comparisons to Pulp Fiction or Snatch are lazily obvious, the reality is the director still manages to come up with multiple scenarios overflowing in creative abandon.

I just wish it was in service to a more coherent narrative. Sure, a great little bunny-centric short featuring Tom Waits had me ghoulishly giggling, but that doesn’t mean it helped events progress in any discernible way. It’s like McDonagh is creating a motion picture made up of 20-minute anthologies, and in the process of doing so robs his main character of a scenario that could make him compelling and worthy of emotional investment.

Seven Psychopaths (2012) | PHOTO: CBS Films

There’s still no way I can come down on Seven Psychopaths all that hard. McDonagh’s dialogue is as richly layered and juicily dynamic as ever, and he’s given Rockwell a plum part of whimsically sadistic madness that’s undeniably terrific. Better, he’s gifted Walken one of his best roles in years. Around the midpoint he shares a scene with Harrelson in a hospital lobby that’s as magnificent as any single moment I’ve seen all year, his smile alone enough to crush my heart and bring a tear to my eye, and all things being equal I’d give him the Supporting Actor Academy Award right now if I had the power to do so.

Sadly, this is unlikely going to happen, the movie too darkly disturbing to register on Oscar’s radar. There’s also the matter that the female characters, played by the likes of Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe and Olga Kurylenko, are all secondary afterthoughts, and even though McDonagh has one of his protagonists openly comment about this that doesn’t make the way he wastes all three of them any less annoying. As amusing as Seven Psychopaths can be, as inspired as much of its grotesque carnage is, I’m not sold on the finished product. Heck, I’d even go so far and say I’d like to demand a rewrite.

Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)

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