Don’t Mess With The Dog
I love Martin McDonagh. He’s probably the best living playwright and certainly an exceptional filmmaking talent. Which is why it utterly pains me to say that Seven Psychopaths, while often comical and enjoyable, is a bit of a self-indulgent meta mess.
The plot revolves around alcoholic screenwriter Marty Faranan [Farrell] and his inability to find inspiration for his new script entitled Seven Psychopaths. His eccentric best friend, Billy Bickle [Rockwell], tries to help out in his own way by taking out an advert in a newspaper, asking all ‘psychopaths’ to call his number and tell their story which may feature in a new movie. All this suddenly takes a backseat as Billy and his partner Hans Kieslowski [Walken] come under fire for stealing the dog of deranged, highly emotional gangster, Charlie Costello [Harrelson]. Everything escalates for Marty who has absolutely no way to process anything that’s happening around him and a complete inability to deal with the scenarios he’s all too familiar writing about, in the real world. Despite the ridiculousness of everything that’s going on, Marty endeavours to add all these elements to his upcoming movie.
It happens to a lot of writers. They get so bogged down and pressured after a big hit that they want to tell a dramatically different story, rather than remaking the same one over and over. Something unique. Something ridiculous. Something they love. As I’m guilty of this myself, I tend to really enjoy these kinds of films; they give you an insight into the writer’s mindset and really explore them as a person. Having said that, it’s still really really fucking self-indulgent and bar Inception it rarely works out. Seven Psychopaths is no different. The story could essentially be an exaggerated biopic of Martin McDonagh’s time in Hollywood after the success of In Bruges. But beneath the madness, the sporadic narrative and awkward pacing, lies a series of very amusing mini-sketch treatments and some terrific acting. If anything, the film is worth seeing for that alone. Sam Rockwell is always a pleasure to watch but here he really revels in the delusions of the seemingly common man. Woody Harrelson also appears to enjoy himself as an unhinged distant relative of his character in Zombieland and Christopher Walken is essentially just playing a slightly crazier version of himself, which is always a delight to behold. Even Colin Farrell manages to deliver a surprisingly enigmatic performance as the alcoholic and emotionally unavailable Marty. The supporting cast are relegated to a scene or two but are afforded the kind of memorable resonance one usually associates with a Tarantino flick. Again, one could argue that McDonagh’s female characters are absurd and completely unused but he openly draws attention to this writing defect in the script. Having committed the same sin, it sounds clever but it’s just a self deprecating Irishman’s way of drawing your to attention his flaws before you’re able to, thus taking the edge off the venom. Doesn’t change the fact he can’t write for women.
As stated above, the intricate little scenes and stand-alone writing pieces are very well crafted and the sprawling variation is thoroughly entertaining. Specifically, the analytical view of contemporary Hollywood action clichés and tropes (made all the more hilarious as the film was preceded by trailers for Jack Reacher and Bullet To The Head) while both condemning and wholly indulging in them as an inevitability or occupational hazard. The diversity of the plots, cast, locations and production design are all neatly anchored by a very commendable directorial style. All of which is elegantly strung together by Carter Burwell’s relatively understated but perfectly suited score. But all these positive elements pale in comparison to the glaring issues the script presents. Being a self referential, inwardly analytical piece, it very quickly appeals to a very specific demographic. Writers will enjoy the obscure developments, stuttering progression and haphazard scenarios with utter glee but overall, the story suffers. One could argue that when setting out to create a film of this nature, the audience should expect a hectic plot, akin to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, that the film itself should not be chastised for what it is but despite being incredibly well written and masterly crafted, you cannot deny that the film is still a fucking mess.
Is this film worth watching? Of course it is – McDonagh and his brother are two of the finer independent filmmakers working today – but this is still a bit of a bump in the road of a very solid career. I appreciate people have probably only seen In Bruges and possibly even Six Shooter but if you’ve seen any of his plays, especially The Lieutenant Of Inishmore, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
7th December 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
The brief opening conversation between Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Pitt – two extraordinarily talented actors – was very reminiscent of a Sergio Leone/Quentin Tarantino –esque build, told through simple conversation. This scene highlights the source of McDonagh’s real power: dialogue. Quick, witty, engrossing and sets the sucker punch tone of the entire movie.
Films like this are real collaborative affairs and it’s very difficult to isolate one individual from a brilliant ensemble but the subtle evolution of Sam Rockwell’s character is simultaneously engaging, endearing and curiously obvious without wandering into the realms of tedious. But as I’ve said before, everyone in this film, from the smallest role to the leads, deliver something distinct and impressive.
“His rabbit gets away of course. You can’t kill animals.. just women”
In A Few Words:
“An unfortunate departure from the lofty heights of McDonagh’s usual brilliance but still a gloriously executed comedy – albeit a little desultory”