"Seven Psychopaths," written and directed by Martin McDonagh, is a clever, well-structured film that comes as a welcome breath of fresh air. It's been a long time since I've seen something like this in theaters.
The film’s plot centers on a hack Hollywood screenwriter, Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell). He’s having difficulty with a new script that shares the film's title: "Seven Psychopaths." Marty has some interesting ideas, including one about an ominous quaker, a born-again convict and a straight razor — but nothing seems to stick. It’s strange that he’s having any trouble at all, considering his life is filled with psychopaths.
Enter Marty's strange, bumbling best friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), who is an out-of-work actor that desperately wants to be in Marty's film. In addition, Billy runs a dog kidnapping operation with an accomplice, Hans (Christopher Walken). Together, the two steal dogs from their owners, and later return them for reward money. They make the mistake of stealing a Shih Tzu named Bonny from a powerful gangster (Woody Harrelson), whose affection for the dog borders on unhealthy obsession. Marty unwittingly finds himself in the middle of the situation, which quickly escalates into bloody violence.
“Seven Psychopaths” is an acutely self-aware dark comedy. It toys relentlessly with the conventions of the crime and action genres, such as the “final shoot-out” that comprises the third act of most crime and action films. Marty decides he doesn’t want to include a big, bloody confrontation at the end of his script because it is clichéd and meaningless. He instead decides his characters will drive out into the desert and have “real, human conversations.” In the film itself, the characters decide to do exactly that – Marty, Billy and Hans drive out into the desert, and they talk.
It’s this kind of self-awareness that makes “Seven Psychopaths” tick. Of course, the film would be nothing without its oddball cast of veteran actors. It almost goes without saying that Walken's performance is both hilarious and strange — he's one of a few actors who can elicit laughter just by appearing on the screen. Rockwell, who is always cast in eccentric roles, plays a role seemingly tailor-made for his manic screen presence. Harrelson doesn’t disappoint as the amusing-yet-horrifying gangster who will do anything to get his beloved Shih Tzu back. Farrell is solid here as a man who has been caught up in a situation out of his control, and something tells me this character may be somewhat autobiographical – his name is Marty, and he is an Irish screenwriter, much like writer-director McDonagh.
McDonagh, who directed "In Bruges" and "Six Shooter," has created a shadowy, bloody world infused with humor. It reminds me, in a good way, of Quentin Tarantino's work ("Pulp Fiction", "Reservoir Dogs"). McDonagh's characters benefit from his razor-sharp dialogue, which is incredibly profane and sometimes profound. He avoids cliches to create a truly compelling, original story with unforgettable characters. After all, how many films have you seen that feature a serial killer who carries around a small white rabbit?
“Seven Psychopaths” is smart and well-rounded. Its cast lights up the screen. If you’re looking for a film that has both style and substance, you need to look no further.