‘Psychopaths’ is crazy-good
Colin Farrell stars in "Seven Psychopaths."
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:02AM
It will probably come as no surprise to hear that “Seven Psychopaths” is a seriously crazy movie.
Fortunately, though, it’s often seriously crazy-brilliant as writer/director Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”) mixes post-“Pulp Fiction” quirky criminal shenanigans with a self-reflexive and deconstructionist storytelling approach that frequently threatens to derail the climactic bloodbath that’s so obviously forthcoming. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen, but he wants us to think about it at length, along with the featured characters, and approach it from an extremely improbable direction.
Well, it shouldn’t be surprising that McDonagh has something tricky up his sleeve.
The first thing you need to understand about “Seven Psychopaths” is that the protagonist, a boozing, blocked screenwriter played by Colin Farrell is named Martin McDonagh. And that the new movie he’s writing is a crime thriller entitled “Seven Psychopaths.” Marty, who happens to be the sanest person on screen, hasn’t gotten very far with the story, though, He only has the title and the vague idea that he wants some of his psychos to be Buddhists, or Quakers or Amish... “I want it to be life-affirming,” he says. Obviously, over-imbibing has addled his storytelling skills but, fortunately, his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell, who basically steals every scene) is determined to get him back on track. Billy, by the way, is one of the psychopaths, only Marty doesn’t know it yet. By trade, he’s an unemployed actor, but he pays the bills by assisting his equally crazed friend Hans (Christopher Walken), who also happens to be a deeply religious and entirely non-violent Quaker, with his dognapping business. Billy steals the dogs, Hans returns them to grateful owners and collects the rewards.
Billy doesn’t think much of Marty’s plan to make “Seven Psychopaths” a movie about “love and peace.” So he tries to get him back on the right path by inspiring him with stories of assorted psycho serial killers including the “Jack of Diamonds” slayer who only kills mid-level Mafiosi and leaves a playing card to claim credit. He also introduces Marty to Zachariah (Tom Waits), who, along with his true love Maggie (Amanda Warren) spent years killing murderers who preyed on his children — including San Francisco’s Zodiac killer.
But the real inspiration comes when Billy unknowingly steals the beloved frou-frou dog of a murderous crime boss named Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), who figures out what’s happened and comes gunning for Billy and Hans and Marty, the innocent bystander.
All of this happens in more or less straightforward (though intensely weird) fashion. Yet McDonagh is committed to seeing the Meta plot elements he has raised through to the end. Even after seeing people shot dead all around him, and realizing that outraged gangster Charlie is coming to kill them all, he still rejects Billy’s idea that ultra-violence is the best way to go with his screenplay. Why can’t the main characters just drive out into the desert, camp out and talk about the situation, he asks, instead of going kill crazy?
And that’s precisely what happens next. Marty, Billy and Hans drive into the desert and talk things over (with the assistance of some peyote) in a long, strange interlude that will either delight or frustrate you, depending on what side of the issue you find yourself. Fortunately, there are several very funny scenes during their desert discussions, including Hans’ critique of the screenplay in progress (“Your women characters are awful”) and a magnificent parody of a Hollywood story pitch with Rockwell performing a lengthy (and incredibly violent) monologue for his dumbfounded companions.
He also dumbfounds them by taking steps to ensure that the story will end his way, with Charlie driving into the desert for the big showdown. It takes a while, but McDonagh knows you have to give the people what they paid for.