Chet Greason, Popcornucopia
Seven Psychopaths is a fun enough film from Martin McDonagh, the Irish playwright and filmmaker who made 2008’s In Bruges. Like In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths stars Colin Farrell and mixes goofy comedy with brutal violence set to the backdrop of a scummy underworld, kind of like a lighter version of a Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie movie.
The film uses aspects of metafiction to tell the story of a Hollywood scriptwriter (Farrell) who is penning a film entitled Seven Psychopaths. His search for inspiration amongst real-life crazies to base his fictional counterparts upon lead him down a dangerous path filled with mobsters, dog-knappers, and psycho killers.
The film is more a pastiche of colourful characters set loose in a seemingly lawless modern-day Los Angeles. Brightest among them is Farrell’s manic and unhinged best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), and a pacifist, almost zen Christopher Walken. Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits also appear as a bully mobster and a bunny-carrying vigilante respectively.
It is the lure of the artist to focus on what he knows...it’s why there are so many movies about filmmakers and script-writers and next to none about pharmacists or insurance brokers. In the same way that authors pen novels about authors and famous singers record songs about the tribulations of being a famous singer, Hollywood is rife with films that deal with trendy, seemingly well-financed, yet lazy script writers, such as The Player, Get Shorty, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Cecil B. Demented,,,The point is, there are a lot of these murder films set amongst Hollywood movie sets.
Seven Psychopaths tends to blend in in that respect. In fact, at some points, I kind of wish McDonagh had actually made the film Farrell’s character is trying to write instead of focusing on the writer’s craft. To me, it would be far more entertaining and original to piece together a collage of vengeful Viet-Cong warriors and Quaker stalkers than to see another yuppie L.A.-type drinking straight from the bottle and complaining about writer’s block.
The best parts are when you realize that the fictional film-within-the-film is reflecting the actual film you’re watching in different ways. For example, Walken’s character criticizes Farrell of not being able to write good female characters; that the women in his film just end up getting murdered. You realize afterwards that the same could be said of McDonagh’s film...that it’s mostly grown men acting like fourteen year-olds with guns.
Perhaps a strong, well-written female character might’ve helped, but, unfortunately, they do not exist in McDonagh’s universe of testosterone-fueled problems.
Luckily, we do get to see snippets of this film-to-be smattered throughout the movie. Rockwell steals most scenes he’s in as a boyish nutjob who slowly unravels throughout the course of the movie. Walken is Walken...he’s always good.
The problem is that, when it’s all over with, you’ll look back and realize there was really nothing special about Seven Psychopaths...nothing you’ve never seen before, nothing overly original. Even the inclusion of a troublesome shih-tzu smacks of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch and beyond.
There’s just not as much at stake like in a Tarantino film; no zippy dialogue like a Guy Ritchie film. Sure, you might enjoy it. You may laugh out loud at a few of the more interesting lines, or jump when something explodes you didn’t think was going to explode. You might even recommend Seven Psychopaths to your friends...but I highly doubt it’s a movie you’ll see twice.
Hollywood’s Seven Best Psychopaths
Here are seven fictional movie psychopaths that made glee-killing stylish.
1. Dr. Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) Silence of the Lambs; Tops most favourite villains lists.
2. The Joker (Heath Ledger) The Dark Knight; Ledger’s untimely death left us wanting more.
3, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) Psycho; The original psycho was a mama’s boy at heart.
4. Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) The Shining; Any number of Nicholson’s roles count potentially be on here.
5. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) Misery; What is it with people named Bates being crazy?
6. John Doe (Kevin Spacey) Se7en; Spacey excels at playing brilliant but batty.
7. Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) Natural Born Killers; It was hard to see Lewis as anything but crazy after this role.
Honourable mentions: Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) A Clockwork Orange, Jason Voorhees (Various actors) Friday the 13th series, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) Taxi Driver, Amanda Plummer in just about everything she’s ever done.