Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson
Running Time: 110 mins
Release Date: 7th December
As a dramatist Martin McDonagh was routinely referred to as the Tarantino of theatre. However, after winning the Oscar for Best Live Action Short with the explosive Six Shooter (2004), the playwright swapped stage for screen, making his feature debut in 2008 with In Bruges. Written around the same time, Seven Psychopaths is his eagerly awaited follow-up. Sharp, self-referential and ultra-violent, it features all the traditional McDonagh tropes, but despite strong performances the film feels too self-conscious to be truly memorable.
Marty (Colin Farrell), a screenwriter with a reputation for Heaven and Hell (“mostly Hell”) stories is struggling to write a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths. Disillusioned with Hollywood’s propagation of mindless violence, Marty insists his story is ultimately about peace. Billy (Sam Rockwell) is Marty’s best friend. A struggling actor, Billy operates a profitable “dog borrowing” scam with Hans (Christopher Walken). When Billy borrows a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu, the guns come out and Marty finds himself in the line of fire.
McDonagh lays out his cards in the very first scene. Smart, economical, funny and violent, it’s a perfect teaser, but not really reflective of the film itself. The action then moves onto Marty and Billy at which point McDonagh gathers his cards, slides them back in the pack and the film shuffles on. Marty’s struggle seems to mirror McDonagh’s. The director clearly has a knack for pop-culture violence but his film aspires to be more than just an empty shell. Like Marty, McDonagh wants to make a violent film that’s ultimately about more than violence. Thus his characters eschew traditional shoot-outs to shoot the breeze, Hollywood violence is ridiculed and in the end Marty finds a peaceful solution to his script.
Although McDonagh—through Marty—appears to reject a Hollywood ethos of violence for violence’s sake, the director clearly wants to have his AK and shoot it too. While chilling vignettes (particularly those involving Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Waits) speak vividly of the inherent endless cycle nature of violence, the shoot-outs which saturate the central narrative feel shallow and cartoonish by comparison.
Seven Psychopaths’ story-within-a-story structure at times recalls Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, and like that film it unfolds in a loose and rambling manner. The film is at its best though when dealing with less self-referential and more self-contained episodes like the aforementioned vignettes, Hans’ scenes with his ill wife (Linda Bright Clay) and Marty’s interview with a bunny-petting psychopath (Tom Waits). McDonagh is a confident director and there is much to enjoy about his film, not least a beautifully restrained and poignant performance from Christopher Walken. But as a comment on movie violence the film is something of a damp squib.