Titles given to movies are frequently enigmatic, crafted specifically to pique the curiosity of the potential audience members to get them sufficiently interest to invest their money to view it. With a title like ‘Seven Psychopaths’ that goal was achieved handily. When you over on the poster or cover art and find names like Colin Farrell, Harry Dean Stanton and Christopher Walken you should be pretty much hooked and bent on watching the film. These particular actors have long been established in a myriad of movie roles but most especially in crime thrillers frequently portraying men rather devoid of compassion or empathy. This makes them ideal casting for a film with this intriguing title. Just these few factors were enough to induce ticket and eventually disc sales but without some meat behind the sizzle general interest would quickly evaporate. Fortunately for those of us that appreciate a tightly constructed film this one has what it takes to deliver. It combines a criminal thriller with a darkly humorous satire of the film industry. This type of self-deprecation can be quite effective thankfully this movie ascends to that level. The writer/director behind this film, Martin McDonagh, is relatively new to the industry he is poking fun at but thus far he is off to a great start. His prior work, ‘Six Shooter’, was a black comedy that took home the Academy Award for Best Live Action Shoot in 2005. His move to a feature length film with such a stellar cast places Mr. McDonagh squarely on the right path to make him a filmmaker to reckon with.
Like thousands of others Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) dreams of earning a lucrative living in the movie industry. His ambition doesn’t rest on performing in front of the camera, Marty wants to be part of the creative talents responsible for putting cleaver dialogue in the actor’s mouth; a screenwriter. Unfortunately that requires having a completed script to promote to the studios. Marty has been working on such a manuscript for some time now but finishing it still eludes him. The title of this work stalled in progress is ‘Seven Psychopaths’. Part of Marty’s dilemma might be to some degree in the company he keeps, not exactly bastions of society. His best friend, Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) scratches out a living by kidnapping dogs, waiting for the lost pet posters to appear and ‘finds’ them collecting the reward. His partner in this dubious endeavor is Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken) a man of anachronistic religious beliefs and a wife, Myra (Linda Bright Clay) who is battling cancer. It is Billy that offers Marty a potential plot twist of modeling one of the titular seven Psychopaths on the real life ‘Jack of Diamonds’ (James Landry Hébert) ,who recently committed a very publicized double homicide. Marty includes his own insane character in his opus dubbed ‘The Quaker’, who hunts the man who murdered his daughter for years before exacting his revenge and cutting his own throat.
The catalyst for the action in this story centers on Billy and Hans dog-napping scam. They unknowing snatch a little Shih Tzu named Bonny. Initially this appeared to be business as usual until they discover the owner of the dog is none other than Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson) the highly unstable and extremely notorious gangster. While this is unfolding Marty hopes to unblock his creativity by placing an ad in the personal section of the newspaper seeking psychopaths willing to share their stories for use in his script. Even crazy people like to see their stories in the movies. Costello learns about the scam Hans is involved and dispatches a couple of minions to threaten his and Marty’s life unless the beloved pooch is returned unharmed. Before this can happen the Jack of Diamonds killer crosses paths with the hit men and kills them. Meanwhile Marty and Billy have a meeting with a respondent to the ad, Zachariah Rigby (Tom Waits). He proceeds to tell them a story of how he rescued a young woman (Amanda Mason Warren) from a basement where she was being held by a killer. This experience led Zachariah to continue to hunt and kill serial killers. Through in a few more plot twists and peyote induced hallucination and you get yourself a very strange yet definitely enjoyable film suitable for any beer and pizza night with the guys.
This movie is a representative example of an odd little art form known as the farce. Traditionally the themes include sexual antics but as proven here violence can be a very suitable alternative. The sexual variety was extremely popular in the sixties in response to the increasingly permissive attitudes towards sexuality particularly in the States. In some ways this movie takes a satiric jab at the current trend of action driven flicks sporting an extended cast of action heroes such as ‘REDS’ and ‘The Expendables’. Here the primary tenants necessary to craft a successful farce are present and ideally balanced. First and foremost rule to enjoy a farce is to realize the normal adherence to reality is suspended. Impossible coincidences, unlike change meetings and improbable mistaken identities are pretty much de rigueur fir this genre, more so than required for other formats. There is a requisite infusion of the absurd that runs throughout the story that serves as the foundation for the exceedingly dark humor. This appears to be the forte of Mr. McDonagh and he is extremely expert in this difficult format.
Stylistically his direction is straight forward; a necessity considering the convolutions intrinsic to the plot. By shifting to a visually fascinating style McDonagh helps the audience remain engaged in the film, their interest firmly held while the frequently bizarre twists and turns unfold. The real showcase fir this filmmaker’s talent is in his screenplay. Although he is writing about a man with a serious case of writer’s block McDonagh obviously got past any personal experience he might have had. A farce requires outstandingly tight writing and McDonagh delivers. There is not a line of dialogue unnecessary or a superfluous scene included. I have a great deal of anticipation to follow his career. Sure the events border on the ridiculous an=d the lack of logic often maddening but that is what makes a tightly woven farce like this a joy to experience.
Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths