It’s hard not to notice the obvious parallels between Marty, the Irish screenwriter played by Colin Farrell at the centre of Seven Psychopaths, and the film’s writer/director Martin McDonagh. Given that the film pokes fun at a variety of crime movie tropes, screenwriting clichés and the failings of McDonagh’s own work so far – like his inability to write for women – it’s a bold move from the In Bruges writer.
The meta element of the film doesn’t end there as Seven Psychopaths essentially plays out like Adaptation as if written by Quentin Tarantino, with Farrell’s Marty struggling to find a story to match the catchy title he’s came up with for his new movie: ‘Seven Psychopaths’. Marty’s best friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) wants to help with the script and has his own ideas about how it should go – guns, blood, violence, revenge – but Marty wants to go down a more spiritual path, writing one of the titular psychopaths as a Buddhist.
Meanwhile Billy and his pal Hans (Christopher Walken) have their own thing going, a dog-napping business where they steal dogs and cash in on the rewards from their owners. When the pair steals the Shih Tzu of psychopathic local gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), Marty finds himself embroiled in a whacky, violent caper with a plethora of psychos, some real, some fictional and some a combination of both.
The set-up is like a million other ‘Tarantino-esque’ crime comedies that were peppered throughout the ’90’s but McDonagh uses it to slyly skewer Hollywood screenwriter and laugh at the ridiculous tropes we’ve all come to accept in films, for example, kill off all the women characters you want but never kill the dog. The real film we’re watching begins to follow the path of the screenplay being written by Marty so it isn’t hard to see where things are going to end up but getting there is a lot of fun.
Unlike his on-screen surrogate, McDonagh had no trouble creating entertaining psychos to inhabit his blackly comic world and thankfully cast them perfectly. Farrell gives a nice downbeat turn, showing he’s far better off in this kind of role than something like Total Recall. He provides a nice counterpoint to the various maniacs around him though occasionally begins to get lost in the madness, with Rockwell, Walken and Harrelson going off around him.
That said, this is Walken’s most impressive turn in years, for once a performance with some substance underneath the quirk.
The same generally can’t be said of the film though, which curiously feels a little less than the sum of its parts. Though the performances are a lot of fun, there’s some hilarious dialogue and fantastic individual scenes – Billy’s exploding-head laden ending to Marty’s script being the hilariously violent standout – the film is all sizzle and no steak, covering its lack of substance with verve and style.
But when it works, it really works and though it lacks the soulful existentialism of In Bruges, the jet black humour and snappy dialogue will surely appeal to fans of that earlier film. The actors are all clearly having such a great time with the material that it rubs off on the audience and makes Seven Psychopaths a brutally funny treat.