Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
After taking a day to properly digest I have to recommend you rush out and see Seven Psychopaths right away! Strangely, I didn’t have the same sentiments the day I saw it. The film takes getting used to and it’s not helped that the marketing for it is really ignoring a lot so if you’re intending to see a shoot ‘em up comedy…you’ll be disappointed. If you’re intending to see a sequel to director Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges…you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a smart, existential look at cinema with Tarantino touches, great actors, and a fantastic script and story you’ll be yearning for a second viewing.
Seven Psychopaths is all about a dog. It’s also about a writer, his best friend, a gangster, and a cast of other characters. When Billy (Sam Rockwell) steals gangster Charlie Costello’s (Woody Harrleson) beloved dog Bonny all hell breaks loose. Billy, his screenwriter pal Marty (Colin Farrell) and Billy’s dognapping sidekick Hans (Christopher Walken) are forced to go on the run to find a way to save their own skins.
Martin McDonagh’s last film In Bruges is one of the funniest road trip films around that also combines gangsters and action with travel and humor. You never get what you expect with McDonagh so I shouldn’t have been so surprised with where Seven Psychopaths goes. The film opens with Marty trying to write a screenplay, also titled Seven Psychopaths, and his friend Billy opening up a scheme where Hans and him steal dogs only to return them to their owners to nab a reward. When Billy steals Bonny and Charlie Costello comes after them the film should be heading towards a conclusion involving a massive shootout…then it meanders. The second half of the film is a jarring shift away from all that into discussing the nature of screenwriting, storytelling, and culminating in camping trip with our three leads discussing life and the universe. I understand the need for this abrupt turn of events but I wished there was an easier way to make everything gel. The way it stands now I was getting ready to get up and leave before realizing there was still 40 minutes of film left.
What is ultimately presented in that second half is far better than the first half! The various stories Marty tells as he’s writing his screenplay are all worthy of their own movies, and boast an amazing cast of cameos including Harry Dean Stanton. When it’s revealed where Marty’s stories come from it opens up layers on not only how selfish his character is but how stories change based on the storyteller. I loved the various discussions on screenwriting and presenting a film as I’ve had these conversations with friends before (especially the ones involving female characters that this film hilarious draws attention to). There’s a lengthy story about the Vietnam War that is not only incredibly surprising to hear at all…but historically accurate. None of these stories should work in this film but they all do and it’s a delight to watch the various stories converge on themselves and change as the friends get comfortable with each other.
It’s almost a shame to go back to the gangster story. The weakest element of the film has to be Charlie Costello. Sure Harrelson is funny because he loves his dog so much but when you get wrapped up in Marty, Billy, and Hans, Charlie just seems like a pest. He’s despicable to be sure, especially considering how he hurts one of the characters, but his story isn’t as interesting as the others. The rest of the cast is just fantastic and there’s surprising performances by Rockwell, Farrell, and Walken. Farrell has done humor before in McDonagh’s In Bruges but here he plays a vulnerable character battling alcoholism (which takes on its own humor as Billy tells Marty that’s the perils of being Irish). Rockwell continues to showcase why he’s always a great villain because no matter how evil or annoying you can’t help but love him. The stand-out is Walken who gives an award worthy performance in my opinion. Hans is a man whose been through Hell and yet never stopped believe in Heaven. His loving relationship with his wife Myra (Linda Bright Clay) and his back-story are equally heart wrenching and life affirming. It’s been a long time since Walken gave a performance that made me take notice but he does fantastic work here.
There are one-liners to spare and a strong story that never goes where expected. I’m only brushing the surface of what’s presented. I simply wished the first half found some way to be as memorable and fun as the second half. Go see Seven Psychopaths and have fun!
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.