Anyone who saw 2008’s In Bruges – which, ideally, is everyone — has good reason to be excited for writer/director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up Seven Psychopaths, and few will have cause to be disappointed. An uproariously funny, gleefully violent, delightfully meta and spectacularly original black comedy set in the unglamorous world of LA gangsters, screenwriters and dog-nappers, Seven Psychopaths plays like an irreverent cross between Adaptation and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and features brilliant comedic performances from an immensely talented cast.
Re-teaming with McDonagh after delivering a career best performance as In Bruges’ traumatised hitman Ray, Colin Farrell plays Martin, an alcoholic Irish writer struggling to finish a screenplay entitled – wouldn’t you know it – “Seven Psychopaths”. His best friend Billy (Sam Rockell; Moon), who runs a lucrative dog-napping business with his devout associate Hans (Christopher Walken; Pulp Fiction), attempts to inspire Martin with tales of real life maniacs, only to inadvertently expose him to one after abducting the beloved Shih Tzu of a highly unstable gangster (Woody Harrelson; Rampart).
An unapologetic cocktail of profanity and carnage, Seven Psychopaths is tonally less ambitious than In Bruges, forgoing the existentialist drama for a more straightforward black comedy. McDonagh’s roots as a playwright are obvious, once again demonstrating his ability to weave inventive plotlines and pen hilariously conversational dialogue – traits that, upon his arrival with In Bruges, garnered understandable if unintentionally reductive comparisons to the writing of Quentin Tarantino.
But if anything, McDonagh’s sly subversions of gangster genre conventions are more of a reaction to Tarantino (or at least his early work) than a rendition. Seven Psychopaths operates as a reflection on violence in movies, shining a mirror on its own silliness and gratuitousness with wicked self-deprecating humour. Martin bemoans the need for a payoff even as the film he’s in veers unavoidably towards its blood-soaked finale, while Billy’s own attempts at screenwriting – played out in one of several hysterically gory fantasy sequences – suggest our heroes are even bigger nut-jobs than their enemies.
The ensemble – a cinephile’s wet dream – is uniformly great. Colin Farrell, playing it straight, reacts with perfect frustration to the increasing absurdity of what is happening to him; Rockwell, in contrast, bounds about with energetic abandon, disturbingly unperturbed by the chaos. The unmistakable Chris Walken is as good as he’s ever been as the emotional epicentre of the film, while Woody Harrelson is having so much fun as the villain he can barely keep the grin from his face. Watching on, neither could I; this really is exceptional cinema.
Seven Psychopaths was reviewed as part of our coverage of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.