Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh

The first thing you should know about Seven Psychopaths is that it is brutal. Albeit, a lot of the violence is comical, but you may find it unpalatable if you're squeamish. This isn't a criticism of the film, but just a word of warning that this will not be for everyone. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I have not seen McDonagh's acclaimed In Bruges, so I cannot make comparisons between that film and the film in question. I have seen McDonagh's Oscar-winning short, Six Shooter, and having now seen Seven Psychopaths, it's evident to me that McDonagh is fascinated with remorseless characters and blood. It would not surprise me if one of his influences is Tarantino, as this film evoked shades of Pulp Fiction (but fell short of its greatness). 

The film's premise is a bizarre one. It's relatively easy to follow, but what happens is not conventional film fare. Colin Farrell plays Marty, a [possibly alcoholic] screenwriter who lacks inspiration to finish his screenplay, aptly entitled Seven Psychopaths. Marty's best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), dabbles in dog-napping, with a little help from Hans (Christopher Walken). Billy and Hans kidnap a Shih Tzu belonging to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a local gangster. This situation provides fodder for Marty's screenplay, and makes for one really twisted movie. 

I don't think the film is a complete mess, but it does feel rather disjointed at times. I really liked the opening scene, which set the tone for the macabre series of events that would follow. Once we're acquainted with all the main characters, the film plateaus until it's revitalised in the final act. I'm still tossing up whether Seven Psychopaths is a true work of meta-fiction, or if it's merely a work of self-parody. That's probably my main problem with the film. It's too damn cryptic. Ambiguity complements a film like Mulholland Dr., where it's established early in the film that fantastical elements are at play. Where it doesn't feel natural is in a film like Seven Psychopaths, which doesn't know what it wants to be. I think it wants to be a comedy first and foremost, and if that's the case, it only just gets a passing grade. I laughed out loud several times, but it was uneasy laughter. I felt like the surrounding movie-goers would judge me for laughing, because the subject matter is just so dark. It's even more awkward as a crime film, as the characters don't have the formidable presence required to be believable bad guys. All I'm saying is, don't go into this film expecting Woody Harrelson to turn out a Pesci-esque performance as Charlie the gangster. He's good, but only as good as the screenplay allows him to be. 

As for the positives, the film features some nifty action sequences and great locations (enhanced by lovely cinematography from Ben Davis). Although the film is unsure of its tone and perhaps its intentions, this unpredictability is occasionally a virtue, and the third act was surprisingly suspenseful and fun. Christopher Walken, who never turns in a bad performance, was a pleasure to watch due to his sharp comic timing.

Seven Psychopaths is not a must-see film, and from what I've heard about In Bruges, it's probably a drop in class for McDonagh. That said, the cast is charismatic, and the story, while often quite messy (not only because of the gore), is not what you'd usually see, and is therefore interesting to follow. I guarantee you will leave the cinema very confused. If I had to describe Seven Psychopaths with one word, it would be "interesting". Too distant to love. Too clever to hate. Strange enough to admire.

3.5/5 stars.

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