(Martin McDonagh, 2012)
The long-awaited second feature from Martin McDonagh, whose award-winning 2008 debut In Bruges was met with, and has subsequently enjoyed, a deserved popularity, Seven Psychopaths sees the Irish writer and director returning to the big screen with an impressively cast revenge thriller that makes the most of an excellent screenplay muddied by a clunky, self-congratulatory story of angst and abduction in the city of angels.
Colin Farrell – reteaming with McDonagh – plays Marty, a Hollywood screenwriter and sometimes alcoholic struggling to surpass the frustrations of his current bout of writers block and come up with a story based around the title of his upcoming script, the eponymous Seven Psychopaths. In his bid to gain inspiration from LA’s noted ‘psychopath’s’, Marty inadvertently becomes embroiled in the city’s underworld when his unrestrained and possibly mentally unhinged best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell, apparently given carte blanche to be as madcap as possible) kidnaps local gang boss Charlie’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved shih tzu.
Having already established a lucrative business of kidnapping dogs and subsequently returning them in favour of healthy reward sums, Billy, alongside partner Hans (Christopher Walken) purposefully leads Marty into dangerous territories in order to ‘help’ research his friend’s screenplay, which the increasingly bloody events provide ample material for. As the bodies start piling up and Charlie’s desperation for the safe return of his pooch becomes evermore tortuous, Billy, Marty and Hans retreat to the desert while they carve out a plan to save their own skins.
Sending up the Hollywood production system, albeit with a darkly comic underscoring, McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths is a surreal and at times very funny drama that eschews any sense of realism in favour of an over the top and self-reflexive meta-narrative which revels in its passion for storytelling. This is a worthy follow-up feature for McDonagh, and it’s a testament to how the successful ripples of In Bruges have allowed him to pick and choose a very fine array of stars, from Harrelson’s superb Charlie (whose crotchety exterior quivers away at the prospect of his missing pet) to Walken, who delivers the film’s much needed beating heart as a man defined by his loyalty to both his friends and his ill wife. Similarly, despite teetering on the edge of over the top caricature, Rockwell delivers an excellent performance of zany exuberance, ensuring that his Billy is both an engaging anti-hero and, as the plot drags on, a chaotic magnet for violence and moral unrest.
For all of McDonagh’s deft ability at ringing comedy from even the most gory sequences, whilst retaining a zippy, fast-moving atmosphere as the film ducks in and out of the overarching plot whilst delineating who the titular seven figures are and why they are deemed to be psycopaths – an element that leads to a predictable third act reveal – what brings his sophomore effort down is his own self-awareness. As clever as the initial idea of having his protagonist (named Marty) be a screenwriter toiling away at a similarly titled screenplay – which could explain McDonagh’s four year absence – it quickly ebbs away and becomes inundated by a twisty story whose bloated convolutions work against its originally in-jokey tenor. As a result, no matter how much irony is batted around in a slick play on mainstream American cinema and various genre conventions, Seven Psychopaths descends into an aimless excursion in cheap thrills, goaded by its own deluded sense of satisfaction.