SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (Great Britain, 2012)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
CAST: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko
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.


By Marc S. Sanders

A writer’s strike never bodes well for a film. So the 22nd installment in the James Bond franchise, Quantum Of Solace, suffered because of it. Daniel Craig returns in his second film as Bond which begins as a direct sequel to my favorite film in the series, Casino Royale. Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) directs, but not very well.

Much of the action scenes are very shaky and choppy. Forster seems to have adopted Paul Greengrass’ technique that works so effectively in the Jason Bourne films and United 93. However, Forster does not make clear what is occurring. You can’t recreate Picasso with crayons.

The opening is a rush job of a car chase as Bond races away from enemies in his Aston Martin. Machine guns and heavy traffic and construction sites make way for his car to gradually fall apart but it’s hard to really see how the car becomes damaged in the first place. Just when exactly did the driver’s side door come off? There’s lots of spinning out of control and dirt flying with bombastic gun fire and engine revving. It’s all sensory overload to hide the preciseness in the high speed chase.

Later, Bond is attempting to rescue the girl Camille (boring name, boring girl) played by Olga Kurylenko when she’s held captive on a boat. He jumps into a motor boat and the chase is on. Bond fends off the bad guy by tossing a rope with a hook on it. Just tossing it up. Suddenly the bad guy’s boat flips over. What exactly happened here? How did the rope take out that boat? I didn’t see the connection. Film is visual. So show me the fundamentals from A to Z, please.

The story involves Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) who appears to be an environmentalist with interest in a pipeline in Bolivia. (Bolivia????) At first Bond is under the impression this pipeline must be for oil. Later, it’s realized that Greene intends to charge the country enormous prices as he takes over the water supply. (Roman Polanski’s Chinatown did this all much, much better.). In exchange, Greene will assist a tyrannical Bolivian General in becoming President. This General raped and murdered Camille’s family. Naturally, she wants revenge. As Bond pursues Greene, he comes to learn that Greene is a member of a secret organization called Quantum. Hence the strange title.

Bond follows through with this assignment while trying to determine why his past love (Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale) was murdered, and after MI6 is infiltrated.

The story is kind of all over the place. It has a lot of interesting threads like Bond’s need for revenge, Camille’s need for revenge and a secret organization that MI6, nor the CIA, were ever aware of. Threads remain hanging as threads though if a writer’s strike interferes.

The story for Quantum Of Solace hardly gets fleshed out. We learn nothing of the organization, Quantum. When Bond finishes his mission with Camille, she just gets out of the car and walks away into the middle of nowhere. Where is she going exactly? The climactic battle takes place in a luxury hotel located in the middle of the desert. Unless this is Las Vegas, who goes to a hotel in the middle of the desert? I mean like ever?????

The film is a tremendous disappointment after the creatively artistic success of Casino Royale. Often sequels do not live up to their predecessors, but Quantum really goes off the rails. This film was a make-up as you go.

Craig is fine in the role of Bond; consistent with his first film. Almaric is okay as the villain, but never given much to do. A second woman comes into play, named Fields played by Gemma Arterton, assigned by M to bring Bond out of service. She seems to have a personality that the Camille character lacks, but she’s hardly given much screen time, save for a nightcap with Bond and later an image that harkens back to Goldfinger.

Jeffrey Wright (a great Felix Leighter, that I have not talked about yet) is belabored to share scenes with an obnoxious CIA partner played David Harbour. These two guys seem to be acting in a different movie.

Marc Forster was given a toolbox but didn’t know which end of the hammer to hold with Quantum Of Solace. There are too many things wrong with this film to justify any merits it may have.

Maybe the most interesting moment happens in the epilogue scene as we learn more about Vesper’s past. The scene has next to no relevance with much of the main story beforehand. Still, why couldn’t this film simply stay on this trajectory from the beginning? This is a thread worth pulling on and then tying off.

In other words, Vesper Lynd is far more interesting than the water supply in…ahem…Bolivia.