I had a few concerns about Martin McDonagh’s follow up to In Bruges. Both the title and trailer (and poster) suggest one of those soul-deadening black comedies that sprung up in the wake of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction back in the mid-90s. Tarantino’s extraordinary success had a corrosive effect on the US indie scene, spawning dozens of rancid, unfunny movies with guys in suits shooting from the hip and mouth in an attempt to capture some of QTs funky magic. With its hip flippancy and stunt casting this looked to be very much in that mould, albeit about 18 years too late.
Seven Psychopaths doesn’t always work, threatens to turn tiresome in a saggy mid-section and literally winds up in the middle of nowhere. But every time it threatens to implode in a welter of meta-mockery and blood-soaked cynicism an outstanding super-charismatic cast save it from its own self-referentially. Frequently better performed than written, it is often very, very funny. It’s better than Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead that’s for sure.
Aside from the admittedly tired conceit of having its central protagonist be a struggling Irish screenwriter called Martin trying to follow up his last big hit, the film offers some amusing riffs on heterosexual male friendship. Like In Bruges it’s grotesquely violent and foul-mouthed yet there is a strange, affecting sweetness at its rotten core. Farrell’s Martin wants to write an artistic B picture with no guns, just talk. All he has is the title: ‘Seven Psychopaths’. His best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is a petty crook who seems unhinged but genuinely wants to help his buddy out of his blocked alcoholic funk. One of Billy’s extracurricular activities is a dog-knapping ring which he runs with the mysterious Hans (Christopher Walken). When Hans kidnaps a shit-zu belonging to crazed mob boss Woody Harrelson, the trio find themselves in exactly the kind of lurid scenario that Martin doesn’t want to write about and which Billy sees as the perfect chance to get his friends mojo back.
Seven Psychopaths has, like In Bruges, a cartoonish quality which McDonagh amps up to the max here. Luckily his cast are on premium strength form. Both Farrell and his incredible eyebrows are particularly effective and Walken is a delight but it is Rockwell who runs away with the film – delivering a campfire monologue about his ‘ideal movie ending’ midway through that is so hilarious it practically destabilises the entire movie.
Seven Psychopaths seemed to rub quite a lot of people at the festival up the wrong way. While it’s uneven and flags a bit I think it’s mostly successful at what it sets out to do. McDonagh is a bracingly funny writer and, while things get a little stagey and clichéd at times, he’s usually one step ahead and capable of pulling a few surprises right up to the final showdown. In its blackly comic treatment of male buddy flick sensibilities it reminded me a little bit of Martin Brest’s classic Midnight Run, although it doesn’t have that film’s incredible warmth and soul. Still there’s enough here to suggest that McDonagh won’t be suffering his alter ego’s lack of inspiration anytime soon.