Playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh follows up his Oscar-nominated debut film In Bruges with Seven Psychopaths, another gleefully dark comedy thriller featuring gabby killers, scabrously funny dialogue and moments of shocking violence.
Played by Colin Farrell and pointedly called Marty, the film’s protagonist is a boozy Hollywood screenwriter whose latest project has left him blocked. He has a title, Seven Psychopaths, but he doesn’t have a plot, or the requisite number of psychopaths. Besides, he doesn’t want to pen yet another crime film about guys and guns; he’d rather write about love and peace and Gandhi.
How to resolve this conundrum is currently beyond him, but his feckless actor buddy Billy (Sam Rockwell) is only too happy to help out with ideas. To Marty’s dismay, he places a newspaper ad to drum up stories from psychos, but even more dismayingly, he also draws his friend into the orbit of genuinely psychopathic LA gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson) by dog-napping the crook’s beloved shih tzu as part of the scam he runs with dapper con-man Hans (Christopher Walken). Before long, Marty’s prime concern isn’t lack of inspiration but how to stay alive.
With Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh has come up with a whip-smart movie that is almost too clever by half. The convoluted plot coils around and around until neither we nor Marty can be quite sure what is real and what belongs to febrile fantasy. Is Harry Dean Stanton’s remorseless Quaker avenger a figment of the imagination? What about the Vietnamese monk seeking payback for the My Lai massacre? And what should we make of Tom Waits’ bunny-cuddling serial killer of serial killers?
If this isn’t enough to frazzle the brain, McDonagh also adds a layer of meta-critique deconstructing the conventions of Hollywood screen violence. He does all this dazzlingly well, but there’s so much self-referentiality going on that the film’s narrative drive inevitably suffers. Still, McDonagh has assembled such an entertaining rogue’s gallery of cult figures – Walken, Waits, Stanton et al – and writes such cracking dialogue for them that as the story heads circuitously to an inevitable desert showdown, strewing corpses in its wake, the biggest shock is that McDonagh really does pull it off.
In cinemas from Wednesday 5th December.
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