Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Tom Waits, Olga Kurylenko, Zeljko Ivanek
RunTime: 1 hr 49 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Official Website: http://www.sevenpsychopaths.com/
Opening Day: 10 January 2013
Synopsis: Written and Directed by Oscar-winner Martin McDonagh , the comedy "Seven Psychopaths" follows a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap a gangster's (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu.
There is a difference between trying to be clever and being clever – ‘Seven Psychopaths’, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s sophomore feature after his breakout hit ‘In Bruges’, unfortunately falls in the former category while very conscientiously trying to be the latter. Working somewhat in the vein of Quentin Tarantino, McDonagh riffs on the stereotypes of the crime thriller while trying to deliver its genre satisfactions – almost like having his cake and eating it – but the self-aware meta-exercise is only sporadically successful.
The scattershot screenplay seems to suggest that the lead protagonist, a struggling Irish writer named Martin Freeman (Colin Farrell) – is no less than McDonagh‘s alter ego, both of whom none the wiser just where their movie should go. Indeed, faced with a case of writer’s block, Martin is at the start stuck at the title of his next screenplay – “Seven Psychopaths” – and in desperation steals ideas from real-life incidents he reads about in the papers as well as stories told by his good friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell).
He gets his first psychopath in the form of a masked hitman, who shoots two other assassins (Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Pitt) at point blank range while the latter stand in wait for their target at Lake Hollywood. The rest soon fall into place, including his best buddy Billy, the L.A. gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson) whom Billy crosses by stealing his beloved Shih Tzu, and Billy’s fellow dog-napping associate Hans (Christopher Walken).
Rather than a straightforward tale of payback, the narrative digresses time and again into vignettes of some psychopath or another who may or may not end up in Martin’s screenplay. There’s a Quaker (Harry Dean Stanton) on a patient pursuit of revenge against his daughter’s killer; a vengeful Vietnamese monk (Long Nyugen) looking to avenge his people against the wrongdoings of the Americans during the Vietnam War; and a serial killer named Zachariah (Tom Waits) with a broken heart who specialises in killing other psycho killers.
While they are meant as droll segments to make the overall tale more colourful, these unrelated snippets unfortunately aren’t nearly as darkly witty as they need to be in order to be captivating; instead, they merely suggest McDonagh padding out the runtime for an otherwise simplistic story that culminates without much fanfare in an unexciting shootout in the middle of the desert. Granted that there is plenty of splattering scalp here, but the violence seems more exploitative than artistic, and included simply for the sake of fulfilling a genre hallmark.
Therein lies the tension of McDonagh’s smarter-than-thou script. On one hand, it tries to be better than movies of its ilk by suggesting where others would have gone and deliberately subverting these expectations – e.g. instead of turning up with a cavalry, Charlie goes to meet both Martin and Billy alone and empty-handed as instructed. Then, on the other, it acknowledges the shortcomings of the genre and then proceeds to reaffirm them by doing just the same. Most prominent here is the misogyny of such flicks that Hans acknowledges, where the females either do nothing or wait to be killed off – but the exact same flaw is repeated in the film as it sidelines its female characters including Marty’s girlfriend Kaya (Abbie Cornish), Hans’ wife (Linda Bright Clay) and Charlie’s girlfriend Angela (Olga Kurylenko). To be fair, McDonagh’s penchant for dark comedy remains intact with the occasional witty banter; but the self-indulgence is too hard to ignore, and McDonagh’s insistence on pumping up the meta aspects of the story gets ingratiating eventually.
If the whole affair remains bearable, it is thanks to a reliably kooky cast made up of some of Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic characters. Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken are the best things the film has going for it, the former’s over-the-top performance complementing the latter’s deadpan delivery even as they play off each other’s eccentricities. In contrast, Farrell is much more subdued here, but he is a reliably watchable centre to balance the oddities of his fellow actors. And despite a limited screen time, Harrelson’s surprisingly grounded villainous turn as a brutal mob boss with an undeniable soft spot for his pooch is a delight.
Yet even the engaging acting cannot quite redeem a movie that is much less clever than it wants itself to be. Wise enough to be aware of genre expectations but not quite intelligent enough to pull off something that goes beyond them, McDonagh tries – but ultimately fails – in emulating Tarantino’s inimitable blend of hyper-violence and hip self-awareness. There are amusing bits to be found, but the sum of these uneven parts makes for a less than coherent and satisfying whole – and that’s something not even seven psychopaths can put right.
(Too self-aware for its own good, this meta-film is not nearly clever enough to subvert genre expectations while delivering the obligatory satisfactions)
Review by Gabriel Chong