Before I begin my review in earnest let me say that I am pretty sure Seven Psychopaths is my film of the year. Writer/Director Martin McDonagh has surpassed himself. And now that the tone of has been set, let’s begin…
Seven Psychopaths is the tale of Marty (Colin Farrell), a borderline (more on that later), alcoholic screenwriter who is currently facing writer’s block. Marty has a brilliant idea for a script called Seven Psychopaths. Thus far he has one page written and one psychopath. And maybe another psychopath in development. Problem is, he doesn’t want his film to be about psychopaths, Marty wants it to be about peace a concept that doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with psychopaths.
He lives with his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) who does yoga and attempts to keep Marty away from his wayward best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell). Billy is an actor. Not a very successful one. To keep a roof over his head he runs a dog stealing business with Hans (Christopher Walken). Obviously ‘business’ is a stretch, due to the illegal nature of the operation perhaps ‘racket’ would be a better description. The idea is pretty simple; steal a dog, hold it hostage until a ransom poster is put up and then return the dog. It’s a victimless crime, that is until they steal the dog of psychopathic gangster, Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Charlie loves his dog, Bonnie, more than anything else. So much so that when Bonnie is stolen a crime spree of epic proportions commences, which may or may not influence the script Marty is so desperately trying to produce.
Various accusations have been levelled at Seven Psychopaths; that it is a film which is less than the sum of its parts but that the parts are extremely good (what does that even mean?!) and that it owes more than a small debt to Tarantino. Whilst I can not deny that the film has shades of Tarantino in it I do think it’s an original piece of and not the blatant rip off some have suggested. There are also shades of other writers in the film, Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation sprang to mind in particular due to its meta nature and Marty voicing his anxieties of what he doesn’t want the script to become whilst it unfolds as his worst case scenario. Again, this is not such a blatant rip off that you end up questioning McDonagh’s ability. I believe that most scripts pay homage to what has gone before, the mark of a good screenwriter is in their ability to take those elements they admire and mashing them up in to one great superscript. Sometimes it goes wrong, sometimes it goes right, in the case of Seven Psychopaths it goes right. Very right.
If you’ve seen In Bruges (if not, why not? It’s amazing!) then you’ll know that McDonagh isn’t one to shy away from gung ho killings. I stopped counting the kills after the first two, which happened in the first scene. Whilst there is a lot of violence it’s so intrinsic to the film that it never feels gratuitous but instead is often used as a comedic device.
The film’s stellar cast is augmented with cameos from Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg. For me, there were showboating performances, Farrell, Walken and Rockwell blend brilliantly as a team and never vie for centre stage. As testimony to their acting, I went from laughing out loud to being on the verge of tears in a matter of minutes, with the exploration of the relationship between Hans and his wife being particularly touching.
For me, the film explores exactly what a psychopath is. There’s an ongoing joke that Marty is an alcoholic which can’t really be helped as he is Irish after all. It’s his heritage but he should really try and curb the bourbon intake. This sage advice is doled out by Billy, who for his own part comes across as completely deranged, and Hans who, whilst not deranged, is certainly not a ‘normal’ individual. Advice received from such people should be questioned, however, they don’t not see themselves as psychopaths and so they believe their advice should be heeded. (I’m Irish. Marty was fine. For an Irish person).
Some of the psychopaths are deemed crazy because of their violent tendencies. In my opinion, it is not their actions but their motivations that make them psychopathic. Then again, some people might consider me a maniac. So my (maniac) advice to you is go see this film. It is brilliant.
***Kind Of Plot Spoilers Maybe***
Following the film Martin McDonagh and Producer Graham Broadbent took to the stage for a Q&A. There were a few questions relating to the the ‘other’ McDonagh brother. What you can take from them is the following:
They don’t really read each others scripts until the film is pretty much done and they’re happy for each other’s success.
Most of the questions related to McDonagh’s dialogue. Prior to writing films he was a prolific playwright with a reputation for writing meaty roles that gave actors something to chew over. One might imagine that writing a play and writing a film require different approaches. In the case of McDonagh this isn’t the case. He tends to sit down and bang out a script with very few re-write or changes. Which means that he must be a naturally funny and sweary man. The main difference he believes between plays and films is the sheer scope that a film allows for location.
Seven Psychopaths is set and was filmed pretty much in its entirety in LA. Nowadays films that are set in LA are generally not filmed there due to funding. There are various tax breaks in other states for the film industry and so filming somewhere else is a lot more attractive than filming in LA. However, in the same way that Bruges was a character in In Bruges so too is LA a character in Seven Psychopaths. For this reason, it was important to remain in LA and have the authenticity that comes from being in the actual city.
Funding was also touched upon when someone asked how they managed to procure such an amazing cast on what was a comparatively small budget. Broadbent was cagey on this topic merely saying what has been said by so many before; if an actor likes a film but the pay isn’t as much as a Hollywood blockbuster they’ll take a cut to support a small film and have the opportunity of being challenged. The success of In Bruges was a draw for many of the actors involved as they knew the quality script McDonagh would produce.
And finally, someone asked how auto-biographical the script was. McDonagh admitted that on the face of it there may be some similarities but in real life he is nothing like Farrell’s character. One commented that perhaps it’s more reflective of Colin Farrell; he has been embraced by the Hollywood machine but is yearning for something a bit more worthwhile than just another Hollywood blockbuster, hence attaching to films like Seven Psychopaths. McDonagh admitted that that’s the first time he’s heard the theory and of the two, it’s the one he prefers most!