Film Review: Seven Psychopaths (2012)

on Wednesday, December 05, 2012
'Seven Psychopaths' (UK Release: 5 Dec '12) // Words: Alison Potter

From the warped mind of Irish writer/director Martin McDonagh comes 'Seven Psychopaths', a black comedy chock full of Hollywood acting talent. It follows the story of a struggling alcoholic screenwriter in LA – funnily enough called Martin – who’s attempting to write a film about a bunch of murderous psychopaths.

Inadvertently he finds himself surrounded by them after his friend starts a dog-napping business; stealing other people’s pooches and later returning them for the reward money. Although it seems like a fool-proof plan, they accidently end up stealing the beloved Shih Tzu of a brutal gangster (played by an enthusiastic Woody Harrelson) which leads to a series of very funny, but also very unfortunate events...

Colin Farrell once more reunites with his 'In Bruges' director McDonagh and he plays Martin, the only straight character in a film packed with an assortment of oddballs. His best friend is Billy (Sam Rockwell), a well-meaning but essentially lazy actor/petty criminal who works alongside old-timer Hans (a cravat-wearing Christopher Walken) in the animal kidnapping business.

With Oscar-nominated playwright Martin McDonagh at the helm, the film is unsurprisingly dialogue-heavy. But it’s also hilarious, punchy and fast-paced. Chock full of comic one-liners, there’s a lot of mileage to get out of the fact that the story centres on a bunch of psychopaths chasing each other around LA. McDonagh takes full advantage of the fact he can make his characters as amoral, comically antisocial and violently playful as possible.

The actors obviously had a ball with such a funny script and this comes across in their energetic and spirited performances. Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson clearly enjoyed mugging for the camera – and stealing every scene that they’re in. Colin Farrell has the hard task of grounding the story, but he does it with aplomb through his freaked out, jumpy portrayal of Marty.

It’s a bit of a shame that the male characters are so well-developed, while the female cast are mostly overlooked. With the exception of Linda Bright Clay – who plays Christopher Walken’s feisty wife Myra – the rest of the women are wasted talents. Abbie Cornish and former Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko are reduced to mere background characters and the short screen time they do have is spent nagging and bitching at their other halves.

Outside of the central plot, 'Seven Psychopaths' occasionally lapses into the stories of other various murderous lunatics for inclusion in Marty’s screenplay, which adds another layer of meta-narrative to the story. The movie-within-a-movie element is unavoidably knowing, but McDonagh tries his best to handle the contrivance in a smart and unpatronising way. There are occasions when it doesn’t quite work, but generally it’s an interesting conceit which adds another entertaining dimension to the story.

McDonagh has a real knack for playing around with clichés and expectations. He twists them around into something delightfully unexpected and so what appears outwardly silly transforms into something quite meaningful. The idea of brutal gangsters with a soft side (to be fair Bonnie the Shih Tzu is incredibly cute), a movie about writing a movie and the final big shoot-out are all concepts which have been seen in numerous other films, but in 'Seven Psychopaths' they are utilised in a unique, fresh and entertaining way.

Perhaps the biggest subversion of cliché is the fact that Martin McDonagh – and the protagonist Marty – set out to write a film about peace and love that features psychopaths and violence. 'Seven Psychopaths' is oxymoronic in that it’s violent, lawless and at times pretty grotesque, but at its heart it’s a strangely sweet and life-affirming story.

As a follow up to 'In Bruges', McDonagh has more than confirmed his talents. It’s not perfect, but it’s an entertaining romp that’s guaranteed to give you a few deep-belly laughs. Although it’s unlikely to be a box office smash, Seven Psychopaths will undoubtedly reach it’s intended audience and add to the cult following that’s already building up around the playwright-turned-filmmaker.


'Seven Psychopaths' is released in UK cinemas today, through Momentum Pictures. The film premiered in the UK at the 2012 BFI London Festival.

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