In his second movie, the Irish playwright Martin McDonagh has mangled together a comic, self-aware revenge flick that’s half Guy Ritchie, half Charlie Kaufman.
If that sounds like an awkward pairing, it is. “Seven Psychopaths” is manic and messy (particularly in the first half) and McDonagh — whose previous film was the more centered “In Bruges” — doesn’t yet have the visual command for a sprawling, madcap tale as this.
But it’s also filled with deranged wit and unpredictable genre deconstruction that makes “Seven Psychopaths” if not quite a success, a fascinating mutt of a movie.
Colin Farrell plays Marty, a hard-drinking screenwriter in Los Angeles and a clear stand-in for McDonagh. (The first letters of his last name are pointedly obscured on his scripts, but “McDonagh” is coyly suggested.) He has his movie title — “Seven Psychopaths” — but little else.
His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is his sounding board. But as Marty tries to write, he gets sucked into Billy’s own hijinks. With the help of his older friend Hans (Christopher Walken), Billy kidnaps dogs and then returns them for the reward money. This practice gets them in trouble when they swipe the Shih Tzu of a dog-loving gangster (Woody Harrelson). Bloody bodies quickly accumulate.
That this is the plot isn’t necessarily clear until fairly well into “Seven Psychopaths.” At first, it’s paced by stylish introductions of various psychopaths, some of whom are fictional inventions — like a murderous Vietnamese priest (Long Nguyen) — and some of whom are among the main characters.
It’s an excellent cast: others include Harry Dean Stanton, Abbie Cornish, Kevin Corrigan, Gabourey Sidibe and a bunny-cradling Tom Waits. But this is Rockwell’s movie. The actor has long specialized in loose cannons (“Moon,” ”Snow Angels”) but his Billy may be the most fun yet.
He enthusiastically supports Marty, trying to get him to write, while revealing that he, too, might be a fittingly unhinged character for the script. But even in his darkest moments, he’s gleeful at the movie he’s acting out. Many of McDonagh’s best lines are his. Explaining that he didn’t mean to suggest his girlfriend is carrying a worse venereal disease, he sweetly says, twice: “Honey, I meant like chlamydia or something.”
In urging Marty’s script forward, Billy also pushes along “Seven Psychopaths.” Billy — whose last name, Bickle, evokes Robert De Niro’s Travis — is the movies, themselves: violent, hysterical, lunatic and totally captivating. His suggested cliched vision for Marty’s script (the psychopaths team up for a cemetery shootout) could easily be in theaters any given week. (“Smokin’ Aces” comes to mind.) He is the excited advocate for gunplay, action and, absolutely, a big showdown finale — both in the script and in his life, if there’s a difference.
Marty, though, wants his film to be about “love and peace” and halfway through “Seven Psychopaths,” he contemplates a sudden turn away from the expected plot mechanics. He imagines the characters simply leaving their guns, going to the desert and talking.
Apoplectic, Billy responds: “What are we making, French movies now?”
For a while, this is exactly what “Seven Psychopaths” does and it’s when it finds its footing. McDonagh is best in such Beckett-like limbos heavy with Catholic guilt — the delightfully grim “In Bruges” was essentially set in purgatory, a.k.a. Belgium. The very talented writer-director has often drawn fair comparisons to Quentin Tarantino (both enjoy the chit chat of hit men), but McDonagh’s work has a darker soulfulness, even when meta playfulness like that in “Seven Psychopaths” obscures it.
Also in the desert, Walken’s character — whose slow, deliberate enunciations are like a soothing metronome for film — takes peyote, which is worth the price of admission, alone.
After breaking apart the crime film, McDonagh puts it back together again for a conclusion worthy of the genre. In the end, the movies — in all their insanity — win. The French lose.
“Seven Psychopaths,” a CBS Films release, is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and some drug use. Running time: 110 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
More Related Stories
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
- Brad Pitt keeps breaking his silence on how boring marriage to Jennifer Aniston was
- Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" to use porn star body doubles
- New Beyoncé single leaked
- The sweet, sure to be short-lived "The Goodwin Games"
- Damon Lindelof admits barely-clothed scene in "Star Trek" was "gratuitous"
- Justin Timberlake: I'm a mediocre folk singer!
- Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74
- Beware of book blurbs
- Did a Salon excerpt ruin Penn Jillette's chance to win "Celebrity Apprentice"?
- Zach Galifianakis to take formerly homeless woman to "Hangover 3" premiere
- Seth MacFarlane will not host Oscars again
- "SNL's" uncomfortable Garner/Affleck moment
- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale ratings hit a new low
- Worst National Anthem fails
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
- Stephen Colbert to UVA: "You must always make the path for yourself"
- "Game of Thrones," season 3, episode 8: A salon
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11