Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the darkly humorous midget-baiting In Bruges does not mislead with its title. There are seven psychopaths featured in this sun-dappled tale of a screenwriter in California looking for inspiration.
Colin Farrel plays McDonagh’s cipher, his mirror-image. God knows who the psychos are meant to represent in his fragile mind, but the film definitely plays with the idea that it’s the depiction of the methods in which a down-on-his-luck writer cobbles together stories to make a bigger one, perhaps it’s also a quasi-autobiographical memoir of the hardships of an Irish screenwriter in a land far away. But mostly it’s just about Farrell’s best friend played by Sam Rockwell going too far with his lucrative dognapping business and being chased around by an enthusiastic gangster played by Woody Harrelson.
Woody loves his dog, he will kill anyone for it. This enthusiasm leaves a trail of bodies littering the landscape, and pulls in a small gang of misfit characters who amuse greatly with dialogue you’ve come to love from McDonagh.
Colin retains his rogue-ish Irish accent which somehow makes his panic-induced moments even funnier, another great performance from the underrated actor. Rockwell is his usual kooky self but with a more menacingly unpredictable undertone. His dognapping partner is played by the legendary cravat-wearing Christopher Walken, who is all too eager to get down and dirty tackling a gangster rather than run to the cops.
Seven Psychopaths would make a good double-bill with Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with its off-kilter nature and preoccupation with fucking with screenwriting rules and Robert McKee in general. There are great interludes where Farrell’s character is recounted tales, and we see them recreated in concise manner.
Witness the heartbreaking and spine-tingling tale of Harry Dean Stanton tormenting his daughter’s killer! Be awed by the revenge saga of a Vietnamese hit man which spans decades! Cringe at the bloody tale of serial killers who kill serial killers! These stories and more are what elevate the film above mere crime malarky.
Once we found out what really happened to the Zodiac killer, I wanted to give this film masterpiece ranking. The humour is brutal and whimsical, though one could say less so than In Bruges, simply because the tale is more America-geared, and is lacking in the usage of the word ‘cunt’. And Ralph Fiennes saying it.
Like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the film plays with thriller conventions, featuring characters making self-aware commentary about what viewers would expect to see in a film like this. Rockwell is adamant on experiencing a genuine shootout scene, and when one doesn’t transpire, his distraught disappointment is a joy to behold.
Your willingness to go along with this ride will depend a little on your knowledge of film. If you’re a ‘casual’ viewer looking for a straight up crime caper like something from Guy Ritchie, then you might not be on board with Seven Psychopaths and be disappointed every time it throws a curve ball. If you’re looking for something like Grosse Pointe Blank, or even a little Charlie Kaufman-esque, then you’re more in luck.
Being inspired to write a story can be a daunting and fraught ordeal for some. Seeking that trigger to ignite a fire in your imagination can involve luck, but mostly it’s just about meeting people. Stories are written by people and are about people. Human beings and the relationships they form are the greatest inspiration. Farrell’s character comes to realise this in McDonagh’s humorous retort to writer’s block, and the journey to get there is one worth watching.