SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (Dir. Martin McDonagh, 2012)
It’s not often that a film lives up to the potential of its cast and premise, but SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS does both, and it does something even rarer - it does the “meta” thing right.
Martin McDonagh’s first full length feature, 2008’s IN BRUGES, leaned a little towards meta with lines like “This is the Shootout” and it’s finale taking place on a film set, but here, in his bloody brilliant second film, the Irish writer/director really goes for the gusto in narrative deconstruction.
Colin Farrell, who also starred in IN BRUGES, plays an alcoholic Los Angeles-based writer living working on a screenplay called, you guessed it, “Seven Psychopaths.” Farrell happens to have a few questionable friends including the not-playing-with-a-full-deck Sam Rockwell who’s in the dognapping business with the eccentric ascot-wearing Christopher Walken.
Rockwell, whose fearlessly unhinged and hilarious performance steals the movie, makes the mistake of kidnapping the beloved shih tzu belonging to a ruthless gangster (Woody Harrelson), and this sets off a series of murders, conversations, and stories told through flashbacks – all of which Farrell is considering to add to his script.
If you find yourself thinking that the females in the cast (Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, and Gabourey Sidibe) are given short shrift, don’t worry, the folks in the film agree as we witness them discuss how Farrell’s female characters are weak.
The finale in the desert (at Joshua Tree National Park) may seem equally as obvious (someone even calls it “the perfect place for a shootout”), but the playful tone doesn’t feel forced and the winks at the audience didn’t make me cringe like in, say, Shane Black’s lesser equally meta-minded KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005).
In the best way possible, there are shades of Tarantino in the hitman banter and comic use of violence, and the Coen Brothers in the increasing absurdity of the situations as they pile on top of each other.
Great grizzled appearances by Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Waits, mostly appearing in the moody recollections that are intertwined with the film’s ongoing scenarios, give “Seven Psychopaths” a bit of gravitas that elevates the material above what usually passes for edgy comedy at the multiplexes these days.
Sometimes it seems as if SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS may be too much in its own comfort zone, but when it’s as cozily clever, and enjoyably in the know as it often is, McDonagh’s movie plays to its strengths more than it reveals its limitations. Or maybe, I was laughing too much to notice them.