Did you catch Seven Psychopaths last October? …yeah, didn’t think so. Martin McDonagh’s latest film certainly made back it’s modest budget of 15 million dollars, and received plenty of solid reviews, but it certainly wasn’t the talk of the cinema landscape. As a self-proclaimed film critic, I have to say that Seven Psychopaths holds a unique distinction for me, as it was the single film of 2012 that I had the most mixed feelings towards. With the film arriving on DVD and Blu-Ray today, here’s why I feel you might want to catch/skip this underrated/overrated crime comedy.
In describing the plot, it’s best to put it like this: It’s a cross between Adaptation and Pulp Fiction. Like the former of those two films, writer/director Martin McDonagh basically writes himself into the film as a fictionalized version of himself (played by Colin Farrell), who is a struggling Hollywood writer trying to complete a screenplay. He’s having writer’s block with his latest screenplay entitled Seven Psychopaths (The film is very self-referential if you haven’t noticed), and idles his time drinking and hanging out with his jerk-ass friend Billy Buckle (Sam Rockwell). The film’s action kicks in when Billy and his accomplice Hans (Christopher Walken) steal the dog of a cartoonishly insane gangster (Woody Harrelson), and Marty finds himself drawn into their hijinks. Throughout the film, we uncover the “psychopaths” that give Marty’s screenplay it’s inspiration.
For the uninformed, Martin McDonagh is a rather distinguised writer for both theater and film. The 42-year old McDonagh (a dual citizen of both England and Ireland) spent much of his 20s and 30s creating acclaimed plays such as The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan, before deciding to turn his attention to making movies. In 2004 he wrote and directed a short film called Six Shooter which turned out to he a hell of a debut, as it won the 2005 Academy Award for best short film. His first feature film, In Bruges, came out in 2008 and proved to be a well liked dark comedy, and seemingly a sign of an illustrious film career to follow.
Seven Psychopaths is easily his most mainstream work to date, but his sense of black humor isn’t hampered too much by the commercial leanings. Filled with clever fuck-laced dialogue, parodic gangster tropes, and so-bloody-it’s-fun violence, Seven Psychopaths easily finds it’s place amongst other post-Tarantino crime films. It’s clearly not anything new, but that doesn’t keep the movie from being any less watchable. McDonagh certainly proves to be an actor’s director here, as the entire cast shines. The characters are all as playful as they are violent, which is certainly what the film’s tone is going for. Granted, the film is undeniably random and messy throughout, but the acting and scenarios are so creative that Seven Psychopaths remains highly enjoyable for 80 out of it’s 109 minutes.
…Then the final act happens and boy does it disappoint! The film’s creativity seems to suddenly dissipate, and we’re left with a half-assed shoot-out to climax the film. What’s worse, the “pivotal” moments that follow fall flat as well, and the writing just comes off as lazy. Granted, the film visually peaks in a scene that precedes the climax, but it’s still hard not to feel that the end is a bit of a cop-out. Seven Psychopaths needed to have a really crazy yet sublime ending, that would of made up for the film’s random nature, and nicely delivered it’s message on the arduous process of writing and re-writing a film script. Instead, what ever McDonagh was trying to say goes right out the window through a cliche-heavy ending that truly lacks spark.
So critics were right to call Seven Psychopaths a fun film (at least for the first two-thirds), but it ultimately fails as a commentary on screenplay writing. Certainly worth a view, especially if you love crime movies, but to be honest it’s difficult for me to recommend this film to very many people. It’s possibly too slow for the action movie crowd, and arthouse audiences are likely to find it too flawed or over-the-top to be worth the price of admission. For that reason…I’m gonna have to recommend that you go see In Bruges instead.