Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Film Review: Martin McDonaugh's Seven Psychopaths

How can a film titled Seven Psychopaths, directed by Martin McDonagh, the man who brought us the tragic hilarity of In Bruges, and stars such pseudo-psychopaths as Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits and the king of 'em all, Mr. Christopher Walken, not be downright killer?  Well, guess what?  It is killer - at least in part.  Granted, sometimes this genre-spanking meta-film tends to fall a bit flat with where it is trying to go, but when it hits, it hits with a satiric, impish glee - and at the center of that glee is the wink-winking, nod-nodding, out of left field antics of a film that knows not to take itself too seriously, but also a film that can, on occasion, dig into its own wounds to create a tragic pathos that counteracts the aforementioned wink/nod attitude of the rest of the film.  In other words, McDonagh's has its cake, eats its cake and then surprises us with a brand new cake.

Ostensibly, the film is about Marty, a hard-drinking Hollywood screenwriter, played rather ironically by ex-bad boy Farrell, and his oft-thwarted attempt at writing a screenplay, appropriately titled Seven Psychopaths.  Coming in to cause problems - sometimes purposefully, sometimes just serendipitously - are Marty's best friend Billy, played with the funnest of aplomb by Rockwell (a guy who incidentally manages to upstage everyone, even Walken), the recently aforementioned Mr. Walken as Hans, Billy's dog-kidnapping partner-in-crime, and Harrelson as the mob boss who has his beloved shih tzu, rather unfortunately kidnapped by our intrepid dog ring.  Blending reality with fantasy, we are often questioning what is real or what is something Marty is creating for his script.  A few times these two twains actually meet and the story-within-the-story suddenly becomes the reality of the film.  Granted, this attempt at meta-fiction never reaches the level of something like Adaptation or Mulholland Dr., but for what it's worth, it keeps the fun going throughout.

And to lay one more criticism on the table, Seven Psychopaths, always at the gentle edge of boiling over, never quite reaches the explosive heights of something from the oeuvres of Tarantino and/or one of his Asian counterparts like Miike and Kitano, and though this may be on purpose considering the rather zen-like outlook McDonagh's onscreen doppelganger Farrell takes toward his escalating situations, I believe the film needs, not more violence mind you, but more threat thereof.  Of course these are just minor criticisms, as the film hits a lot more often than it misses - the self-referential plot-twists and self-aware cocksuredness go a long way in making this happen - and when we finally come to the inevitable climactic conclusion (wild-eyed Billy even predicts such a venue earlier on) we should be left, though aching for certain character's fates, with a sense of gleeful satisfaction.  At least I know I was.  Of course a rabbit snuggling Tom Waits, though his role is small, can never hurt.

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