Written & Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Produced By: Martin McDonagh, Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits
Edited By: Lisa Gunning
Music By: Carter Burwell
Distributed By: CBS Films
Budget: $15 million
Runtime: 110 minutes
I, along with most everyone I know, am a big fan of In Bruges. I didn’t see it in theater, but I instantly loved it when I rented it and subsequently bought. It’s one of those films where I marvel the whole way through at how beautiful and intelligent it is. I do not mean this so much in cinematography or editing, but in writing. Martin McDonagh is a writer who makes his scripts feel incredibly alive while at the same time so unlike everything else we watch/hear in modern cinema. This is odd considering the “realism” that films are supposed to bring, but McDonagh manages to entertain us with little more than two characters talking.
Seven Psychopaths allows his creativity to further hone and refine itself. Again, the script is amazing, the dialogue perfect, but Psychopaths also has a considerable amount of non-dialogue moments: flashbacks, action sequences, and much blood and murdering. Plenty more blood and murdering than In Bruges, but it’s all in a wonderfully meta way. Meta can be difficult, but Seven Psychopaths is meta in a good way and it makes for a vastly enjoyable film that entertains you throughout, even if what happens isn’t necessarily a surprise.
The film follows a struggling writer named Martin (Colin Farrell). Yes, that Martin, as in the director, and would you believe that Martin, the character, is having trouble writing a crime film called Seven Psychopaths? Now, in the first act when you learn all of this, it’s cute but forgettable. It doesn’t cease any eye rolls for pulling the old “writing the movie in the movie” trick, but nothing yet comes of it. Martin’s problem, you see, is he doesn’t want to write just any crime film where crazy people murder everyone. He’s tired of boring Hollywood recycling of standard psychopaths and wants to write something original. His best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), seems a bit crazy himself and starts suggesting some characters. Billy steals dogs with a second friend Hans (Christopher Walken) before collecting the reward money.
As the film progresses, Martin slowly starts to accumulate his psychopaths in ways he never would have imagined or particularly hoped for, especially when a certain psycho gangster (Woody Harrelson) who wants blood for having his dog stolen. The film, like every character in it, is completely crazy. Insane. Bonkers. Ridiculous. Unreal, yet so real. Films build themselves around stereotypes that are recognizable by the spectator, and in some ways society has started to envelope those stereotypes as real things. It doesn’t really work, though, because in the real world people, all of us, are just a little crazy. Martin, the character, wants to write a film about people who are crazy for a reason: the Amish man who stalks the killer of his daughter, the Vietnamese terrorist who never forgot, and a certain Jack O’ Cards killer hunting the mob led by Harrelson, who just wants his dog back.
Martin the director faced a very difficult task in making this film because nearly half of it is calling back to both itself and cinema as a whole. Entire dialogue scenes, when delivered, are very obvious “I’m talking about a fake movie but you, the viewer, also know I’m talking about Hollywood and the movie you’re watching.” It’s meta, which fails more than it succeeds, but I think Seven Psychopaths without question succeeds. The dialogue is a large reason for this, seconded by the amazing cast. The dialogue isn’t very subtle, but it’s so smart, so quick, and delivered so perfectly that you love it.
Combine the dialogue with the actors delivering it. This is a film where you know everyone involved loves the project. No one here is just in it for the paycheck. Colin Farrell was in In Bruges, so there’s obviously a great working relationship there, but Harrelson, Walken, and Tom Waits all bring their A-game. Walken is the character he always is, but it’s perfect for the role. And then comes Sam Rockwell, who in many ways is a co-protagonist with Farrell. Rockwell is an amazing actor in most anything (Moon, even Iron Man 2) and it’s no different here. He just shines in every scene; making his character instantly lovable although he’s literally out of his mind. The entire desert sequence, strange as it is, is a constant stream of “Rockwell is so awesome…Walken is so awesome.” Colin Farrell plays more of a connecting character between the psychopaths (he is not one of them). He’s meant to represent us, the viewer who is tired of standards.
Now, everyone can agree that Seven Psychopaths is funny and well acted and entertaining, so instead argument is given how it compares to In Bruges. McDonagh made a name for himself in theater before transitioning into film (his first short film won an Oscar), and he has made only two films so far. Many of my friends answered without hesitation that In Bruges was better, cleaner, smarter; not to suggest they didn’t like Psychopaths. I have more difficulty with the question, possibly because Psychopaths is just the one I’ve seen most recently. Both are wholly original and fresh, filled with foreshadowing and climatic symmetry. Many character deaths, cursing, blood, so on. Psychopaths also includes, even with all of it’s amazing meta-narrative, a few “really?” moments. The location of the “final shootout” is referenced in a joking manner but then when it ends up happening I found myself “meh.” Not unhappy, but not as giddy at the symmetry. Likewise, a certain after-credits scene is designed to hit you as “damn, I forgot about that” but I found myself expecting it from the initial foreshadowing.
Still, I give two examples of gags that didn’t work, subjectively, while also recognizing the numerous ones that did. The scales are tipped very much in favor of Psychopaths. I can’t pick whether I like one or the other better because it depends on my mood at the time. Bruges is much darker, Psychopaths is lighter. This applies to tone of comedy, mood of the film, so on. They are both awesome, however, and Seven Psychopaths, if you are interested in a film that’s funny, smart, fun, and originally creative, is a must-see. You may not want to spend a ticket price on it, and if so just add it to your Netflix queue and/or Redbox wish list now.