Seven Psychopaths (CBS Films, R)

7psychos sqAs great as the cast is, the real star of this movie is writer/director Martin McDonagh.

 

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Seven Psychopaths is a film that is hard to describe. Ostensibly, it is about a group of friends who kidnap dogs and then return them for a reward. They end up kidnapping a Shih Tzu who belongs to a viscous gangster who will do anything to get his dog back. That’s a solid setup for a comedy, but there is way more going on than that. One thing the trailers have completely left out is how meta the whole movie is. The movie was written and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, and the main character is Colin Farrell, playing a screenwriter named Martin, trying to write a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths, and struggling to make it more than just a generic Hollywood movie. The result is kind of like Adaptation, but with a lot more language and bloody violence.

It’ll be tough to write about this movie without turning into a Chris Farley-esque fanboy, recalling specific lines and moments and saying, “That was AWESOME!” I’ll do my best to avoid that. One easy thing to comment on is the fantastic cast. I’ve always liked Colin Farrell, even in bad movies. I think he is an enjoyable actor who doesn’t have much of an ego and is willing to go all out and swing for the fences. No director has used him better than Martin McDonagh, who seems to really understand Farrell’s strengths and play them up for the best possible results. His buddy in the film is Sam Rockwell, who I’ve never seen be bad in anything. He has a great talent for playing obnoxious assholes, without ever turning the audience against him. The third member of the central trio is Christopher Walken, who is in full-on Christopher Walken mode, but with an additional level of pathos that has been missing from many of his recent roles.

The gangster who loves his Shih Tzu is played by Woody Harrelson, who came in late to replace the original, more meta choice of Mickey Rourke. Part of me is sad that Rourke didn’t end up in this part, but Harrelson is a blast to watch. Tom Waits shows up for a bit part as a weirdo who carries around a rabbit wherever he goes. Harry Dean Stanton has a small memorable role. Kevin Corrigan is always reliable as a low-level thug who seems smarter than everyone else around him. Character actor Zeljko Ivanek is good in this, as well as in Argo, which opens on the same day. It’s one of those amazing casts where everyone is someone, and it’s great to see them all play off each other.

As great as the cast is, the real star of this movie is Martin McDonagh. I’ve mentioned before that I like my comedies to do more than simply make me laugh. McDonagh makes the kind of comedies I love. I remember seeing his first feature film, In Bruges, in the theater opening night, and feeling sad during the big climax because I didn’t want the movie to end. I felt the same way during Seven Psychopaths. I could listen to his dialogue forever. He likes to push boundaries, going well into bad taste, but without ever feeling mean spirited or cruel. He likes his characters, and we like them, too. He’s the kind of writer who can point a flare gun at a Shih Tzu’s head and make us actually believe he might pull the trigger. And we wouldn’t hate him for it. His balance of comedy and drama is impeccable. After two features and one short film (the Academy Award-winning Six Shooter), he has quickly risen to a high position on my favorite directors list.

In case you can’t tell, there is a lot to love about Seven Psychopaths, and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. This is a movie that should be experienced, so I won’t bother getting into specific plot points or scenes. McDonagh is a good enough writer that he could just let his films coast on the shoulders of the cast and the dialogue, yet he avoids the playwright stigma by making movies that have strong visuals and that feel cinematic. In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are both beautifully shot films. I think a lot of people will try to fit him into a niche by comparing him to Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie, but he has a distinct style all his own. Seven Psychopaths continues his winning streak. And by the way, it’s fucking awesome! | Sean Lass

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