Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Film Review: Seven Psychopaths

McDonagh goes mega-meta with his follow-up to In Bruges

The best and funniest part of Seven Psychopaths is Christopher Walken’s sad, oddball dognapper: To pay for his wife’s (Linda Bright Clay) cancer treatments, Hans, with the help of his irascible buddy, Billy (a quick-talking Sam Rockwell), nabs pups off the street just to turnaround and give them back for hefty rewards. Walken, with his usual eccentricity and wacky comic timing, effortlessly floats through a cast of maniacal misfits, getting laughs not because the jokes are that all that funny (though sometimes they are), but because his speech patterns are just so darn weird. But it works for Hans, who, despite the welcomely uncomfortable impression that he’s always just teetering on the verge of sanity, never quite lets the crazy out.

Not to worry, though: There’s enough cray in the rest of the film to make up for Walken’s relative normalcy. Screenwriter Marty (an endearingly hapless Colin Ferrall) unapologetically plays the drunken Irish/writer cliche, picking petty fights with his girlfriend to distract himself from a wicked writer’s block: he’s got the titillating title — Seven Psychopaths, naturally — but can’t quite come up with seven bloodthirsty-enough characters (he really wants the film to center on a Buddhist. or a Quaker. or an Amish guy.). From there, it’s all his quest to to find inspiration, and with the help of the rather bat-shit Billy, they come across plenty of it (Woody Harrelson, Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Waits, to wildly varying degrees of screen time, play the most memorable of the maniacs).

The writer-director of Seven Psychopathsthis Seven Psychopaths, not Marty’s Seven Psychopaths — is Irish playwright-cum-sometime-director-screenwriter Martin McDonagh. Though this is his second full-length film — following the 2008 Oscar-nominated hit-men-on-holiday caper, In Bruges — he’s best known for his theatre work, and rightly so. Excluding his most recent, the forgettably shallow and unfunny A Behanding in Spokane (also, and thankfully, aided by a wonderfully whacky Walken), he’s expertly cornered the market on the tricky triumvirate of dark comedy-horror-tragedies. His consistently brutal and almost always bloody plays offer pools of sympathy for the stunted and frustrated souls that inhabit them — and they’re tightly structured with clever dialogue flowing at a masterful pace.

Some of that heightened theatricality shows up in the film in the imagined origin tales of the psychopaths (in the best one, a creepily mute Harry Dean Stanton avenges  his daughter’s death with a suicidal stare). But instead of an air-tight structure with slowly building tension and subverting expectations, Psychopaths is a slight, ramble of a film that features largely undefined crazies while borrowing too heavily from Tarantino with its ultra-selfconsciousness, twitchy comedy and outrageous violence (though, to be fair, McDonagh, only seven years younger, has been bloodying stages to acclaim about as long as Tarantino has been sullying celluloid). Seven Pyschopaths is well-acted and sporadically humorous, but I’d rather see McDonagh in a triumphant return to the stage (à la Beauty Queen or Pillowman) than in a mediocre film — or even a good one (In Bruges).

Opened Friday, October 12, 2012 nationwide.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Lisa Gunning; music by Carter Burwell; production design by David Wasco; costumes by Karen Patch; produced by Mr. McDonagh, Graham Broadbent and Pete Czernin; released by CBS Films. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes.
WITH: Colin Farrell (Marty Faranan), Sam Rockwell (Billy), Woody Harrelson (Charlie), Christopher Walken (Hans), Tom Waits (Zachariah), Abbie Cornish (Kaya), Zeljko Ivanek (Paulo), Gabourey Sidibe (Sharice), Michael Pitt (Larry), Michael Stuhlbarg (Tommy), Harry Dean Stanton (Man in Hat), Kevin Corrigan (Dennis) and Bonny (Bonny).

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