by Miguel E. Rodriguez
DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
CAST: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko
MY RATING: 7/10
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 83% Certified Fresh
PLOT: A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.
I wanted to like Seven Psychopaths more than I ultimately did, but it is still a fun, mostly unpredictable ride. My biggest hangup was that it felt too similar, in broad strokes, to other “meta” movies. To other BETTER movies, unfortunately. I always try to review the movie in front of me instead of comparing it to other films, but in this case that guideline proved impossible. But I did try.
The story involves Martin (Colin Farrell), a struggling screenwriter in Los Angeles; Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), his best friend who also runs a dog-napping racket with HIS friend, Hans (Christopher Walken); and Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a dog-loving gangster whose favorite pet is a Shih Tzu named Bonny…whom, as it happens, the dog-nappers have stolen. We get an idea of just how much Charlie loves his dog during a scene where he interrogates the dog-walker who lost her. When a man is willing to shoot someone over a dog, I’d be the first in line to give it back, but Billy has other plans.
See, his friend Martin is trying to write a screenplay. He’s under a deadline, but all he has so far is the title: Seven Psychopaths. He doesn’t even know who all the psychopaths are yet. So, Billy tells him a couple of stories about psychopaths that he’s heard about here and there, and the characters slowly start to take shape. Meanwhile, Hans makes periodic visits to his cancer-stricken wife at the hospital. Also, a serial killer is on the loose, but he only kills mafia and yakuza hitmen. ALSO also, Billy puts an ad in the paper advertising for psychopaths to reach out to him and Martin so their stories can be used in Martin’s screenplay. That’s how they wind up meeting Zachariah (Tom Waits), an odd little man who carries a rabbit wherever he goes and spins a tale of how he and HIS wife would hunt…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
As you see, there’s a lot of story going on. And, as I mentioned before, most of it is unpredictable. The concept of a killer who only targets hitmen is unique, at least in my mind. But when the story focused on Martin’s screenplay and how it was being put together, that’s when I started having cinematic déjà vu.
Example: Martin isn’t sure how he wants it to end. He’s a pacifist, so he doesn’t want it to end in a cliched shootout. Billy spins a tale of how HE would end the film, with a bullet-ridden, blood-soaked shootout in a cemetery, featuring the return of Martin’s ex-girlfriend for no reason and a supporting cast of all seven of the psychopaths reuniting, also for no reason. At that moment, I instinctively thought, “Well, clearly this movie is going to end in a shootout.” And it does. Sort of.
Martin hears Billy out and disagrees. “They should all just go to the desert and talk their issues out instead of shooting each other.” Again, I realized, “Okay, so they’re going to wind up in the desert.” And they do.
And so it went, over and over again. A character would pitch an idea for Martin’s screenplay, and later in the film that idea would suddenly be manifested. Martin gets criticized because his screenplay doesn’t feature enough women and doesn’t give them anything meaningful to do or say…in the middle of a movie where the women don’t do or say anything meaningful.
Don’t get me wrong, I like meta movies. But despite the dark comedy and the typical awesomeness of Chris Walken and the other elements that weren’t so predictable (the reason behind Hans’ cravat, for example), I just couldn’t shake the feeling of “it’s all been done before, and better.” I’m thinking specifically of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (no screenwriter, but same vibe) and Adaptation, a movie where the lines between reality and the screenplay get so blurred as to be non-existent. Seven Psychopaths feels like it’s trying to get to that level, but it never quite gets there. On that level, it’s not quite a success.
However, I will say it’s worth a watch for any movie fans. There are enough satirical elements that make it worthwhile. (“But his rabbit gets away, though, because you can’t let animals die in a movie…just the women.”) Walken’s performance is, as always, the stuff of legend, even in a smaller role like this one. Late in the movie, he has a marvelous scene between himself and a button man with a shotgun. If that vignette is not mentioned during the tribute video when he eventually passes away, I would be extremely disappointed.