DVD Review - Seven Psychopaths

Sam Rockwell is the funniest thing
in "Seven Psychopaths"
I am biased when it comes to movies about writers. I tend to love them. It's because I like to think of myself as a writer, so seeing films where I can transpose myself or where I can easily identify with the protagonist are easy delights. Ostensibly, I was predisposed to like this and there are things here that I did enjoy. The problem is that this movie stars Colin Farrell and it's supposed to be a comedy. It also has action and thriller elements, but mainly it's a comedy. This is the second effort in that vein with Farrell and writer-director Martin McDonagh. The first effort was In Bruges (2008), which I didn't enjoy. It was a comedy again with action and thriller elements, but the comedy didn't work for me. I love Colin Farrell, but I'm not sure I'm as taken with him as a comedic actor. Thankfully, he's not called upon to do a lot of comedy here. He's mostly just the straight man, but in moments where he does have to be overtly funny, it fell flat for me.

Luckily, he's surrounded with actors who are far better with moving between comedy and drama, including Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken. Each one of them really shine in this film and each in particular has one scene where he really stands out and stands tall with how great he is in his own way. I was impressed with Rockwell almost from the beginning, but it's not until about two-thirds of the way into the movie where Rockwell's performance is solidified and he proves himself awesome. Harrelson proves himself in his very first scene and Walken proves himself, comedically-speaking, in his very last scene.

Marty, played by Colin Farrell, is an Irish, alcoholic screenwriter who's putting together a movie called "Seven Psychopaths," but he's suffering from writer's block. Marty is friends with Billy, played by Sam Rockwell. Billy works with Hans, played by Christopher Walken, in a scheme of stealing dogs just for the reward money. Billy steals the dog of a vicious gangster named Charlie, played by Woody Harrelson. Charlie who is willing to kill in order to get the dog back pursues Billy and Hans but finds Marty and kidnaps him. In the interim, Billy helps Marty to write his movie and based on these encounters Marty gets ideas for psychopath characters.

This premise drives the narrative, but there's a question of motivation. I don't know why Billy steals the dog and I don't know why Charlie is so willing to kill for the dog. The only reason that McDonagh gives is that both men are psychopaths and we're supposed simply to accept that. Unfortunately, that isn't enough and it's basically an easy shortcut. When it comes to Billy, we get more about him that explains his actions in the end, as crazy as they are, but Charlie's actions at no point make sense.

The movie also leaves you to wonder at the extent of Marty and Billy's friendship. I don't think McDonagh fills out how the two met and how long they've been friends. The performances from both Farrell and Rockwell more than sell the relationship, but McDonagh could have done more to patch the holes. McDonagh comes up with some clever back stories, including a great one for Walken and the other psychopaths with the exception of Marty and Billy. They don't get clever back stories or really any at all.

Because this is a movie about a guy making a movie, there is a lot of meta-commentary moments. Marty, Billy and Hans literally debate what the movie should be about and it's blatant that their comments refer to the debate that McDonagh must have had when thinking about what this movie should be about. It helps that both McDonagh's movie and Marty's movie are both called "Seven Psychopaths."

Yet, this movie starts out as a quasi-gangster, revenge film, which is what Marty's film starts out as too, a film that lends itself to violence. However, Marty doesn't want his movie to be violent or at least end in violence, despite Billy's insistence that it should. Marty instead wants the movie to be life-affirming. From that moment on, it becomes a mystery of who will win out, Marty or Billy.

As has been pointed out in numerous movies and TV shows, most people are the makers of their own movies, meaning most people are in control of their own lives. Yes, there are things that are beyond them, but unless you're a slave or live in a totalitarian regime, most people have control of what happens to them. Marty seems convinced that his choice is made about what movie he wants to make, but the real concern is if Billy's choice is final.

Billy re-enacts the ending that he wants. It's a monologue that McDonagh flourishes, but Rockwell's performance of that monologue is spectacular and is enticing and seems to be what most young movie audiences want. I'm not sure if ultimately McDonagh is criticizing movies who do go the route that Rockwell wants. The hang-up seems to be over ending the film in a big shootout.

It would be odd for McDonagh to criticize movies that embrace violent ends and then have his movie embrace a violent end itself. Seven Psychopaths is not a critique of violent, action films like Last Action Hero (1993). It's also not in-depth or enough of a character study to be like Adaptation (2002). Maybe its end isn't as violent as it could have been, but when the opportunity is given not to be violent, McDonagh doesn't take it.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality and some drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.


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