6 December 2012


It's inevitable that reviewers will compare Martin McDonagh's latest film to In Bruges. That film was a masterpiece, and there's always going to be pressure for a filmmaker to top a masterpiece on the next feature, when their body of work really shouldn't be quantified in such terms. I've even seen some confused souls compare it to The Guard, which was actually made by his younger brother, John Michael McDonagh. The elder McDonagh has a recognisable style of writing and storytelling, between his two feature films thus far, and it's almost as if Seven Psychopaths was organically cultivated from the development of that style.

In a possible case of art reflecting life, the film centres around a screenwriter called Marty, who's suffering from writer's block. His current project, titled "Seven Psychopaths", isn't much more than a title, and he finds it difficult to work, due to his alcoholism and the constant distraction of his unhinged, dog-napping buddy, Billy. In a moment of desperation, he agrees to collaborate with Billy in generating stories about psychopaths, little realising that his friend's criminal enterprise has crossed into the territory of mobster Charles Costello, with the abduction of his beloved Shih-Tzu, Bonny.

There's a difference between McDonagh honing his style, and the obvious comparisons to In Bruges, and aside from transcending these, the film itself isn't quite what the trailers would have you believe. For one thing, the psychopaths of the title are not those that are numbered in the trailer, and some of the characters' personalities are entirely different from what is portrayed. One of them turns out to be arguably both the hero and villain of the piece. Another only appears for a short time and then vanishes, only to return at the most unexpected moment, with the funniest impact. I think the only character who appears exactly as they're depicted in the trailer is Christopher Walken's Hans, and this is his best role in a while.

Rather than a knockabout violent crime comedy, this one has a lampshade hanging securely from its various tropes and genre fixtures. Early in the film, we hear an anecdote about a psychopath who decides to join his wife in going around killing people who go around killing people. Seven Psychopaths is a movie about a guy writing a movie in much the same fashion, and while some have accused McDonagh of falling into the same trap as he's writing about, the film is good enough that I believe it's intentional, and satirical, rather than a misfire. This is, to the post-Tarantino crime caper movie, as The Cabin in the Woods is to the teen horror genre- pointing out the tropes of the genre, while also adhering to them in a funny and subversive way.

Colin Farrell plays Marty as the exasperated scribe, who's trying to write a different treatment of psychopaths, while being locked into an escalating situation that conforms to many of the apparently unrealistic conventions. He's the audience viewpoint character, but based purely on the sheer vigour of Sam Rockwell's performance, I'd have to argue that Billy is the protagonist. Rockwell gives yet another of those performances that makes you wonder how on Earth he's remained so under-appreciated as an actor. He doesn't so much steal scenes, as pick up the film and run away with it from the very first scene in which he appears.

Walken has a number of superb Walken moments, some of which rival even his most memorable roles, and Woody Harrelson is both threatening and strangely likeable as the psychopath who's on the warpath for the most part. This cast, delivering McDonagh's dialogue, is so enjoyable that the film earns a pivotal moment of self-awareness at the midpoint. Marty, Billy and Hans discuss the script in the car, and turn the spotlight on an audience who really might not have noticed how predictably it's all unfolded thus far, and had forgotten about the female characters played by Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko and Gabourey Sidibe. It takes the audience to task as much as the genre, and from there, it continues on with its refusal to unfold as expected.

If there's a problem with Seven Psychopaths, it's that there's a bit of repetition in the separate resolutions of diverse subplots and minor characters, rather than delivering variations on a theme. But that's a minor criticism, of a film that has more than its fair share of belly laughs, quotable lines and fascinating characters. So many films try to decry violence by simply showing a lot of it, but McDonagh has a knack for making you feel the impact and futility of it all. Here, he turns his sights on screen violence, and even doing something as simple as having Sam Rockwell describe it, gives us the funniest scene in any film this year. We're not in Bruges any more, but frankly, I like it here too.

Seven Psychopaths is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen
Seven Psychopaths, why not share your comments below? Do they know, we'd believe that they don't care what critics think, if they didn't keep mentioning it so prominently?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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