Marty (Colin Farrell) is a screenwriter with a serious case of writer’s block. “Seven Psychopaths” is his latest script, but there’s one big problem with it. The title is all he’s written so far. He needs some inspiration to make his characters and his story come alive, but where is an Irishman with a drinking problem and relationship issues going to find that spark of originality?
As with most of life’s questions, the answer here is Sam Rockwell. More precisely, it’s with his good friend Billy (Rockwell). Where Billy goes trouble follows, and that trouble is currently in the form of a pissed-off gangster named Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who’s violently distraught over the loss of his pooch Bonny (Bonny the ShihTzu). It seems Billy’s primary source of income is a scam he runs with his friend Hans (Christopher Walken) involving the dog-napping and subsequent return for reward of wealthy peoples’ pups.
Snatching Bonny has opened up a can of murderous worms as Charlie hunts down those responsible and Marty finds himself caught in the blood-spattered middle of it all. On the bright side he’s getting inspiration for all seven of his fictional psychopaths, but none of that will matter if he doesn’t live to finish the screenplay.
Seven Psychopaths is exactly the film we should expect from the man who created the wickedly great In Bruges. It’s whip-smart funny, deliriously violent and deceptively heartfelt. And good god does it have the most aggressively awesome ensemble cast of all time.
Efforts to avoid Charlie’s wrath result in even more death, but it’s not all running from the reaper. The three friends have downtime too, and both Billy and Hans use it to try and help Marty with the script. They suggest killers, offer motivations, tell stories and, in one of the film’s funniest scenes, even pitch an idea as if it was being presented to a Hollywood executive. If there was any doubt before as to Rockwell’s comedic skills this scene should put them to rest permanently.
Writer/director Martin McDonagh has crafted a dark, twisted and ridiculously funny tale that echoes the fresh, rapid-fire wit he delivered with In Bruges. That film, for as hilarious as it is, had a darker heart about it than McDonagh’s new one, but the lighter tone here doesn’t lessen the quality. He’s paired his script with an abundance of actors we love to see onscreen, and with very few exceptions they all leap at the opportunity with substantial abandon. Farrell, Rockwell, Walken and Harrelson are joined by Harry Dean Stanton, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tom Waits, Olga Kurylenko and more.
The film is telling its own story, but McDonagh weaves additional stories throughout that occasionally bleed over into reality. Where reality stops and fiction starts isn’t always clear, and that’s kind of the point. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and sometimes the greatest truths are lined with lies. The seven psychopaths are a mix of the real and the unreal, and sometimes they’re the same person.
The film moves at a breakneck pace thanks to the sharp writing and smart delivery, but there’s one scene where the laughs and the goodwill hit a brick wall. Charlie’s interrogation of the employee (Gabourey Sidibe) who lost Bonny consists mostly of him and his henchman calling her “fat ass.” Like anything else, jokes about overweight people are fine if they’re actually funny, but wit is replaced here by lazy cruelty. It’s simply mean spirited, and worse, it’s terribly unfunny. It’s an anomaly in an otherwise razor-sharp script, but that’s what makes it stand out so egregiously.
That misstep aside, Seven Psychopaths is a joyous, gleefully violent celebration of character, creativity and all things Rockwell. (Well, not everything.) The marketing presents the film as little more than a violent comedy, but McDonagh manages to sneak in some honest heart and pathos too. A smart script makes the film good, but near perfect delivery by some of our favorite unhinged actors make it great.
The Upside: Ridiculously funny; incredibly violent and gory; smart commentary on character building in films; an aggressively awesome ensemble cast
The Downside: The Gabourey Sidibe scene trades creativity and wit for excessive and unfunny “fat ass” jokes; it’s a man’s show leaving very little for Olga Kurylenko or Abbie Cornish to do
On the Side: Mickey Rourke was originally cast in the film but left due to disagreements with Martin McDonagh. Rourke’s recent tweet stating “Just saw 7 psychopaths. Don’t waste your time or money, unwatchable.” is surely unrelated.