Review: Seven Psychopaths

For his eagerly anticipated follow up to In Bruges Martin McDonagh has created Seven Psychopaths, a film about as quintessentially postmodern as a meta-black comedy involving seven psychopaths and a screenwriter writing about seven psychopaths could hope to be. And as such it possess both the advantages and disadvantages this style of storytelling entails

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On one hand its certainly good fun. Above all McDonagh is playing its premise for laughs (with humour generally derived from mocking the ridiculousness of the gangster film), which is just as well given its daftness. Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) plays a writer trying to pen a screenplay about psychopaths, and finds inspiration in his odd-ball best mate Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) and the dangerous criminals Billy finds himself involved with (Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson) in his pet dog-napping business. There are moments when you worry some ill-fated seriousness is about to be injected into proceedings that wouldn’t fit comfortably with the film’s general absurdity, but fortunately McDonagh never fully commits.

Other virtues lie in the sometimes unpredictable plot twists and its dodging of the usual trappings of the gangster flick of graphic violence, clichéd characterisation and marginalisation of women, enabled respectively by the postmodern narrative structure and self-referential tone. But herein is Seven Psychopaths’ main flaw; with such a self-aware, insincere tone, it’s impossible to feel anything for any of the characters. They are all so pointedly artificial that we invest nothing in their fates, and as a result the film does feel somewhat hollow.

Thankfully, the eyebrow-raising cast throw just enough charismatic vigour at their shallow characters that the film can still be enjoyed in spite of this. Sam Rockwell especially is on sparkling form as the seemingly naive Billy, showcasing great screen presence with his compelling strangeness and mad looking eyes. Christopher Walken is understated but typically gripping as the reformed murderer Hans Kieslowski, Woody Harrelson in contrast is in full exaggerated madness move, while Colin Farrell plays the straight man that the rest bounce off.

But the lack of feeling or purpose means Seven Psychopaths falls short of its obvious influences; it shares the ironic violence and postmodern playfulness but lacks the panache of Tarantino’s best work, possess a Coen brothers-esque tone but missing their confident control over the material, and has nothing like the warmth and thoughtfulness of Charlie Kaufman’s similarly meta work. From the director of a film as good as In Bruges, more is expected.

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