By Tim Posada, 10/18/2012
“Seven Psychopaths” is that rare film that merges humor, gratuity and unexpected sincerity. It might camouflage itself as a neo-noir comedy — and don’t get me wrong, this one’s riddled with laughs and bullets — but there’s more to the gore, and twice the slice (I couldn’t help myself).
Screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell), an Irish alcoholic who mooches off his girlfriend, Kaya (Abby Cornish), suffers from major writer’s block. At the moment, he only has a title, “Seven Psychopaths”. Luckily, Marty lives in L.A., and his rather psychopathic best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), places an ad seeking crazy stories.
Along with confessions by former murderers, Marty learns that many (and by many I mean all) the stories he’s heard about psychopaths from his friends are in fact not fictional.
Meanwhile, when Billy isn’t punching casting directors during auditions, he runs a “dognapping” scam with Hans (Christopher Walken). Unfortunately, Billy steals the adorable pooch of psycho crime boss, Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who starts killing his way back to the only thing he loves –– even more than his girlfriend, Angela (Olga Kurylenko). And since crazy doesn’t discriminate, Marty gets dragged into the madness as the three flee town.
The plotline is about as outlandish as they come — three dudes running from some big bad guy who wants his dog back — but absurdity often leads to some of the most original ideas (“Pulp Fiction” anyone?). The story adds a layer of reflection to the entire neo-noir genre through various scenes where Marty, Billy and Hans debate scenes and characters to include in the “Seven Psychopaths” screenplay. Sure, it sounds pretentious, but Billy’s many terrible ideas — especially his proposed climax — make for some of the most entertaining moments in the film.
Rockwell is one of the more versatile big-screen actors. He’s played mentally crazy, sex-crazed and crazy-cocky characters. “Seven Psychopaths” oddly merges many of his best roles into a complex character that’s obnoxious, hysterical and, of course, sociopathic.
Both Rockwell and Walken are the heart of this film, but Walken, as Hans, functions as the moral center –– a new idea for an actor seasoned in sadistic roles. Also a versatile performer, he’s played the maniac, the tortured soul and even some bloke in a hotel lobby who starts dancing through the sky to a Fatboy Slim song. Here, he’s something quite different –– same mannerisms and Walken-esque delivery, different outcome. Simultaneously soft spoken and strong, his presence echoes boldly in the same way it does in many of his other performances.
The other psychopaths featured are quite memorable, including Harrelson, as the central villain, and the always fantastic Tom Waits. Any time singer/actor Waits appears in a film, whether it’s “Short Cuts”, “Dracula” or “Wristcutters”, that film’s cultural worth immediately increases tenfold, save for that ghastly film, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”. He doesn’t bother changing his traditionally outlandish characters, but merely perfects one of his many memorable bit parts.
Sophomore director Martin McDonagh made waves with the critically successful “In Bruges”, featuring a misfit group of criminals who share their disdain for each other and a small town in Belgium, but “Seven Psychopaths” proves this filmmaker gets better with age. Few films are simultaneously this gruesome and hilarious. “Seven Psychopaths” performs that magical dark comedy spell, making you laugh at things that should make you squirm.
Yet, the humor paves the way for a deeper discussion on the nature of evil and how a morally responsible piece of fiction should conclude. Must every story end in a showdown? Does the three-act structure set the global standard for all conflict resolution? Or can we find another way –– something more that history hasn’t already given a try? Of course, this message is wonderfully coded beneath fight sequences, shootouts and scenes that make any action film fan cheer. Nonetheless, it’s there, begging us to see something more in this film, and hopefully others as well.
“Seven Psychopaths” finds a middle ground between being good fun and ethically stimulating. It might appear to be an uneven film, but the story’s worth lies in its fragmented parts rather than its overall cohesion. Few films are this enjoyable and intellectually challenging.