19 December 2012

Movie Review: Seven Psychopaths


B+

Seven Psychopaths 
2012, 109mins, 15
Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh 
Cast includes: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Tom Waits 
UK Release Date: 5th December 2012


When a person makes as strikingly impressive a feature debut as Martin McDonagh did with 2008’s “In Bruges”, the prospect of a follow-up is always daunting. “In Bruges” was an absolute gem, a macabre picture laced with terrific writing, memorable characters and big ideas. “Seven Psychopaths” is a very different film, more interested in lampooning Hollywood storytelling mechanisms than delving into the minds of sobered assassins for black laughs. The ensuing effort is always clever and ripe with amusing dialogue, although at times its own intelligence proves an undoing, slowing the picture’s pace with unfavourable results. It’s still a barnstorming and oft entertaining venture, just not the masterpiece that its predecessor was.

An alcoholic writer with limited imagination, Marty (Colin Farrell) spends more time slumming with hyper pal Billy (Sam Rockwell) than he does tending to his own professional woes. Stuck trying to pen a screenplay called “Seven Psychopaths”, Marty finds himself caught up in Billy’s mess, when the latter and his associate Hans (Christopher Walken) are fingered for kidnapping the dog of ruthless mobster Charlie (Woody Harrelson).  Forced to flee with the pooch in tow, Marty finds a surprising amount of inspiration in being hunted, especially given that his company, Hans and Billy, may themselves also be psychopaths.

The trailers that appeared several months ago for the film promised an R-rated goofball adventure, but in reality “Seven Psychopaths” is something else entirely.  A self-reflexive investigation of Hollywood plotting and the writing process, “Seven Psychopaths” functions more as a knowing parody of its genre than a genuine entry, even though there are times in which McDonagh succeeds at playing it both ways. Equipped with an acidic wit and strong visual presentation, the picture is effortlessly enjoyable, albeit some of its loftier aims on occasion become entangled within the over-reaching runtime. I had a grand time with “Seven Psychopaths” although I would attest it might appeal more to specific palettes, in contrast to the mighty appeal wielded by “In Bruges” An interest in the mechanics of film-making and creation are helpful when embracing this stylish oddity.

The cast is rich in recognisable names, and that transfers smoothly into the quality of acting. This time Colin Farrell is the straight man for McDonagh (he was the opposite in “In Bruges”) and quietly leaves a strong stamp on proceedings. It’s just the performance the Irishman needed to deliver after the summer’s lethargic “Total Recall” rehash, bouncing off the wackier characters effectively and grounding things during the rare, subdued moments. Rockwell and Walken are tremendous value as the canine thieves, Walken bringing his turn down to a Zen whisper, whilst Rockwell dials it all the way up to 11. It’s an appropriate contrast, both men applying a strong sense of comedic timing to their work. Harrelson is a little more ordinary as the gangster, although to label his work as anything less than hammy fun would be doing it an unfair disservice. Women intentionally get short shrift in “Seven Psychopaths”, bringing attention to one of McDonagh’s issues with contemporary writing. Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko appear briefly to underline the gag, but for deliberate reasons neither are given much to do.

“Seven Psychopaths” is loaded with cinematic staples; two shootouts (one fantasy, the other reality) are particular highlights. The movie is absurd, but not without some harshness, there are a few creepy retreats into Marty’s professional imagination and sparing hits of very bloody violence. The film tussles with cruel reality and the comic potential of delusion quite nicely; tonally the picture adopts a psychopathic personality of its own. McDonagh is also very aware of the narratives limits, taking his plotting down a predictable avenue. It’s the distinctive dialogue and self-referential intelligence that grants “Seven Psychopaths” a hardened identity of its own, not the central storytelling. A tighter edit would almost certainly have been beneficial, there are sequences where it appears the film-maker is perhaps juggling one ball too many with his meta musings, grinding the middle portion of the movie to a slower pace than it needs.

The movie climaxes with a strong call-back to an earlier scene (Tom Waits is unnervingly hilarious here), rounding out the idiosyncratic experience fittingly. “Seven Psychopaths” is not standard mainstream fare, but it is an extraordinarily distinct hit of weirdo firepower. I had a good time with this classily assembled film, and for those looking to engage their pop cultural consciousness whilst simultaneously soaking in berserk farce, I’m sure the post-viewing results will be similarly complimentary. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

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