Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Running time: 110 minutes
My fellow internetians (totally a word!), I come to you this week a wreck of a man. Well, not a wreck, but I can’t really think of a better word to use in the “of a man” context. I felt “bleak” didn’t sound right, but that’s the mood I find myself in when I think about the experience I had leaving the session of Seven Psychopaths that I saw. I left the theatre with this feeling of bleakness, like what I had just seen hadn’t quite hit me yet. And to be honest with you all, that was the last thing I expected to be feeling when I was walking in!
Now Showing this week is Seven Psychopaths, written and directed by Martin McDonagh. The film revolves around a struggling screenwriter named Martin (Colin Farrell) who is trying to write a film he has entitled “Seven Psychopaths”, but he is finding it hard to find A. the psychopaths and B. what to do with them when he has them. He is best friends with an oddball named Billy (Sam Rockwell) who is a professional dog-kidnapper along with Hans (Christopher Walken). Being a professional dog-kidnapper basically means they kidnap people’s dogs, wait for them to offer a reward and then bring it back to them to claim the money. But Billy recently kidnapped the dog of man named Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who is the craziest gangster in the whole of Los Angeles and will stop at nothing until his beloved Shih Tzu is returned to him.
Now any of you who read my review of McDonagh’s previous film In Bruges, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of his work. I was extremely excited when I heard he was making a new film, and when I heard who had been cast in it I was even more excited. Following it’s release this week, I saw some positive review scores and some great recommendations from friends who had seen it, so last night I was primed for the latest venture from my favourite writer. And I came out of it…disappointed I suppose is the right word. I was disappointed with what I had just seen. Now I know a lot of you will simply say to me that it was too hyped up for me and that killed the experience because it could never have been as good as I had believed it would be, (and you will probably continue to think that regardless of what I say from this point) but it wasn’t my excited anticipation that rained on my experience. It was that Seven Psychopaths has nothing of the Martin McDonagh I know and love in it. At least, not all of it.
Looking back at my comments on In Bruges, I said that what I love about McDonagh’s work is that he has a wonderful blend of dark comedy woven into a real tragedy of a story. His stories contain such hilarity while also being so poignant and moving. His initial scenarios may be absurd (a one handed man searching for his severed appendage two Irish hit-men forced to sight see in a random Belgian town etc.) but they link and transform into tales of anguish and tragedy and the transition is so seamless. Now Seven Psychopaths does something different; Seven Psychopaths is a transition for McDonagh to go from being “absurd” to being “absurdist”; and believe me, there is a huge difference!
The first half of Seven Psychopaths did seem to function like the previous works of Martin McDonagh, with a crazy scenario (finding psychopaths to inspire a screenplay and dag-napping the Shih Tzu of a deranged killer!) that introduces a serious side to each of the characters that weaves its way into the narrative. And in this regard, the character of Hans was a highlight and especially heartbreaking. But once the film enters the second half, the narrative begins to fall apart and the dog-napping/screen writing thing fades into the background to make way for Farrell, Walken and Rockwell to have an existential, nihilistic (read: “absurdist”) discussion about McDonagh himself as a writer, and the writing of action/gangster movies in general. Farrell’s character is McDonagh’s presence in the film (even going so far as the be named “Martin”), and many of the criticisms raised about his writing are the same as ones brought up against McDonagh’s work. The film becomes a forum for McDonagh to address (albeit comedically) his criticisms and respond to them in kind. This shift took me by surprise as it was as though the film had completely changed.
Now this shift into an absurdist theatre vibe is fine, it isn’t bad viewing by any stretch of the imagination. However, the original thing that drew me to McDonagh’s plays (and later to In Bruges) was that he wasn’t an absurdist writer. His plays have a cohesive narrative, any political or personal agenda comes out of the story and the characters, but above all his main goal (at least from my perspective) was to tell a great story. Stories that I engaged with, cared about and had me on the edge of my seat for the whole duration. But with Seven Psychopaths, I slowly became disconnected from it. The discussions between Farrell, Walken and Rockwell were quite interesting and very intelligent, but I was no longer engrossed in the fiction of the film. I was simply listening to Rockwell being funny, which was very entertaining, but it isn’t the same as that feeling of being completely enthralled by the story in front of you like McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” gave me.
But I will say this, the film is really funny. Really, really funny and often very, very dark. This is classic McDonagh! I mentioned Sam Rockwell’s humour before, and it is top notch. Him and Christopher Walken make an amazing comedic duo, and the film had me laughing for the duration. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this film and I would recommend it to others looking for a cleverer comedy at the cinemas. But Seven Psychopaths just wasn’t a Martin McDonagh film for me, at least not to the calibre that I usually see from him. I’m all for writers (and all creative people) to try out new things, but I’m sorry Martin, you’re earlier stuff was better.
See you next time!