Seven Psychopaths is a movie about…well I’m still processing the film and its many interpretations. On the surface it’s just a black comedy about crazy people acting crazy telling crazy stories. But more than that, Martin McDonagh’s film is an exploration of screenwriting and a bristling take down (send up?) of male dominated action comedies. It’s a film that will leave you puzzled, especially after a rough first half hour, but the more you open your mind to will prove revelatory, entirely engrossing and incredibly funny. While there are so many recursive elements to the story one could get lost but my pal Mark Johnson summed up the set up beautifully: Seven Psychopaths is the tale of a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who gets mixed up with the mob after his delinquent friends (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken) kidnap an eccentric gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) precious Shih Tzu.
There are so many loose strands of the story that weave in and out of the film it’s hard to really appreciate what McDonagh has crafted here if you go in just expecting a funny film. It’s certainly an interesting quandary for critics like myself to review because many of the film’s “problems” are intentionally so. Take for example how women are treated in the film. Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko are in the movie for maybe 10 mins each, in completely inconsequential roles and treated like shit by the main characters. But most men who are similar to these characters in real life treat women poorly. Furthermore in most male dominated comedies and action films the women are treated like window dressing. And since the characters are trying to a write a movie about the lives they’re living in a film that’s parodying those specific characters…you can see the “women problem” of Seven Psychopaths is totally manufactured construct and presented for dissection by McDonagh. The only real issue I had is that with the way it’s edited it takes a while to get into the film, much longer than any normal black comedy.
The acting in the film is great with everyone in the ensemble giving a great performance. Cameo roles by Gabourey Sidibe, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Pitt and Željko Ivanek pack great bang for your buck hilarity due to their limited nature. Colin Farrell acquits himself very well playing the straight man (relative to the loons around him). His performance is one of constant exasperation, drunken stupor, and scared shitless-ness. Sam Rockwell is a blast playing the best friend, who may or may not be a psychopath. He does some really interesting things with the McDonagh dialog that the other actors don’t, as if his character is in on the big charade that they’re in a movie; it’s fascinating to watch.
But the real revelation of the film is Christopher Walken, who hasn’t been this present in a movie in ages. Playing a religious man with an African-American wife and a dark past, it’s easily the most dramatic role in the film and in turn really grounding for Walken, whose roles tend to be played for high camp. But just because his role is more serious doesn’t mean it’s any less fun with him turning in several of the best one liners and being the focal point of the film’s climax.
All in all, Seven Psychopaths is a film that strives to be more than just a black comedy and succeeds at every turn.