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Review: Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Directed by: Martin McDonagh

Premise: A struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) becomes entangled in the world of organized crime when his friend kidnaps a gangster’s dog.

What Works: Seven Psychopaths was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, a filmmaker who is similar to Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet in that his stories are dialogue driven and his characters often speak with a very masculine wit. McDonaugh is very good at writing dialogue and that comes across in Seven Psychopaths as nearly every scene in the film has at least one howler of a line. The success that the film has with McDonagh’s dialogue-heavy script is due in large part to some excellent casting choices and Seven Psychopaths has a handful of tremendous performances. Colin Farrell plays the functional-alcoholic writer and although the character is a cliché Farrell makes him likeable and even empathetic as he struggles to produce a screenplay. Sam Rockwell plays a friend of Farrell’s character who has screenwriting dreams of his own and Rockwell brings his usual manic energy to the role. In less flashy but nevertheless important roles are Christopher Walken and Tom Waits. Walken plays a pacifistic criminal and the actor has a melancholy that contrasts with the other cast members while Waits shows up in what amounts to a cameo to tell a haunting story that is one of the film’s best sequences. In addition to his skill with dialogue, writer and director Martin McDonagh also shares with Tarantino and Mamet an ability to effectively mix violence with humor. This is a challenging mixture to get right but the filmmakers manage it and Seven Psychopaths has some very strong scenes of violence that recall the intensity of the infamous “ear scene” of Reservoir Dogs. The filmmakers of Seven Psychopaths also show some intelligent self-awareness about storytelling and gender politics and this film plays, at least in part, as a commentary on Hollywood, the writing process, and the search for meaning through narrative. These scenes provide some of the film’s biggest laughs and the filmmakers exploit the joys of being deliberately politically incorrect.

What Doesn’t: Although Martin McDonagh shares some of the same interests and skills as Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet, he also demonstrates some of their vices like falling in love with his own material and overplaying scenes or motifs. Seven Psychopaths is overstuffed with subplots and tangents to the point of making the film incoherent. The picture alternates between Farrell’s character struggling to write a screenplay and the foibles of the pet kidnapping plotline but these narratives never coalesce. Watching Seven Psychopaths is like flipping between multiple movies playing on television and it makes about as much sense. Whatever the filmmakers are trying to say about the relationship between life and story is lost and when Seven Psychopaths gets to its finale it concludes on a random ending that doesn’t affirm anything. That haphazardness may be part of McDonagh’s intention with this film but it makes the movie unsatisfying and gives viewers the impression that they’ve been jerked around for two hours.

Bottom Line: Seven Psychopaths is an entertaining mess. It is undeniably funny and individual parts work very well but as a whole this movie never solidifies into a coherent film. In time this could very well become a cult picture but for now Seven Psychopaths is a case of high ambitions torpedoed by a lack of discipline.

Episode: #410 (October 21, 2012)