Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for. In his wake has come a slew of verbose, pop-culture referencing crime flicks, trash-aesthetic exploitations films, and a dystopian cornucopia of film student imitators. Seven Psychopaths, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s second film, will inevitably be grouped with said postmodern post-Tarantino crime movies, but it deserves more than that.
Describing the film’s plot is something of an exercise in futility, but here goes: struggling screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) reluctantly accepts input on his abortive screenplay, Seven Psychopaths, from his seemingly-unhinged dognapping friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell). Throw into the mix Christopher Walken’s character, Hans, as Billy’s partner-in-crime, and psychotic gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a plan that gradually unravels, and a whole lot of violence, and you have a difficult plot to summarise.
The dark sense of humour McDonagh exhibited with In Bruges is evident throughout here, with violent punchlines to profane jokes. Like Tarantino’s movies, McDonagh’s films seem to inhabit a similar but different world to ours, that owes as much influence to the movies as it does to real life. Just like most films about writers, this film is ultimately about the process of writing, as Colin Farrell’s character struggles with writer’s block, and writer’s boozing. With moments that blur the line between Marty’s screenplay and the reality of the film itself, some might find the narrative too confusing or obscure for their tastes, but ultimately the film’s internal logic holds true.
Colin Farrell is as effective as he was in In Bruges, showing the same instinctive feel for McDonagh’s dialogue, and comic acting that often mark out his best performances. The rest of the cast are uniformly excellent, never better exemplified than in Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken’s elliptical, violence-free Western-style standoff in a hospital waiting room. However, the film itself is stolen right out from under the noses of everyone else by Sam Rockwell. His gleeful, eccentric performance gives the film its energy, and continues his fine career.
This film is violent. At times, distractingly so, with its graphic nature potentially unsettling even those who are familiar with his prior work. Catholic themes of crime and punishment pervade throughout, also something McDonagh fans will be well-versed in, but there is a streak of violence against women that could potentially leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Although women are shown perpetrating violence themselves, and violence against women is repeatedly condemned by characters, actions speak louder than words. Do I think Martin McDonagh is sexist? No. Did I find some moments troubling? Yes. But I think that is ultimately the point with this story, slight as it is. Your tolerance for violence and appreciation of film references will be key to your overall enjoyment of the film, and it is stimulating to see such a unique voice able to get his work released with some A-list stars. See it, you need to have an opinion on this.