Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Seven Psychopaths

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (Martin McDonagh, 2012)

In SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS screenwriter Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) is struggling to come up with a script for a film of the same name.  His creative block might be related to the alcoholism that his friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) suggests he has.  Then again, Billy can’t exactly be trusted completely.  The temperamental aspiring actor is hellbent on finding some way to collaborate with Marty on the screenplay.  While Billy is a good friend, he doesn’t make the wisest choices.

For instance, Billy is involved in a dog abduction scheme with Hans (Christopher Walken).  Billy takes the adored pets, and Hans returns them to the grateful owners for the reward money.  It looks to be an easy and risk-free method of lining their pockets until they take the beloved Shih Tzu of organized crime boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson). He doesn’t take kindly to news of his dog’s disappearance.  Charlie and his men don’t have to search long before they are chasing Billy, Hans, and a guilty-by-association Marty.
As a mash-up of ADAPTATION and ‘90s Tarantino-inspired films, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS is either too clever by half or not clever enough to fulfill all of its ambitions.  Like Charlie Kaufman, writer-director Martin McDonagh loads the film over capacity with ideas and structural complexities.  McDonagh zigzags plenty, sometimes to the film’s detriment, but he provides plenty to chew on among the ample laughs and bloodshed.  

On one level the existential comedy is about the process of filmmaking.  On another it’s concerned with what makes a man a man and the social expectations of how machismo is expressed.  Ultimately SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS is most interested in exploring the need for dreams, be they reflected in the movies or offered through religious promises about an afterlife.  Is what we do in our lives meaningless or the basis for the potential earning of some greater reward?  Are we even in control of writing our own life scripts, or is another screenwriter--the Almighty Creator, in fact--determining how the narrative develops?

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS doesn’t knuckle down and decide how to answer everything tossed out for consideration--how could it?--but even when it feels like little more than intellectual, postmodern spitballing, it satisfies as an exercise in storytelling.  It helps that McDonagh employs a who’s who of character actors to flesh out a rogue’s gallery worthy of living up to the film’s title.  As a foil to Farrell’s straight man, Rockwell is amusingly unhinged as a wild card of a friend.  Walken brings gravitas and soul to an eccentric man who knows all too well the tension between faith and despair in the face of the seemingly random.  Harrelson is a fearsome and humorous study in the film’s clash between violent and loving impulses.  Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton are plugged into the lineup for good measure.  SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS doesn’t reach the high bar McDonagh sets for it, yet he distributes a good number of pleasures with the film’s wit, contemplative offerings, and unpredictable nature.  

Grade: B

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