Another case of advertising-gone-deceitful, Seven Psychopaths shows its true identity as mostly commentary, leftover part non-linear dog-napping gory-action comedy a short time after the introduction.
This film may be too segmented and allusive for casual moviegoers untouched by a pop-culture immersion obsession, including randy teenagers attracted by the zany, not-abnormal trailer that beckons smart, safe action. However, for people like myself, and I’m not really sure who exactly that descriptor includes, Psychopaths is a refreshing change from the drollery of sensical narratives and brings Cabin in the Woods to mind, more so than genre comparisons like In Bruges, Smokin’ Aces, or Ocean’s Eleven.
The first ten minutes cleverly star Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg of Boardwalk Empire as unnamed mafia underlings, in part to allude to their roles there with starkly fitting dialogue, in part to set up the first surprising rug-pull of the film. I also believe that Michael Pitt’s easy recognizability as the lead of 2007’s Funny Games, where two psychopathic young men take a family hostage in an exploration of and commentary on the horror/thriller genre, serves as an allusive filmic device that frames the movie to follow a similar make.
It’s more fun, however, to go into Seven Psychopaths and wonder these things afresh, as part of the movie magic is being strung along the craziness with unsuspecting, unwilling, confused Marty (Farrell) complete with real Irish accent. I truly had no idea where many of the scenes were leading; this film does such a fantastic job incorporating both cliches and purposefully original plot elements that it is very difficult to predict which parts will be useful for furthering the action until the action is actually furthered.
Packed to the gills with wild acting talent and another debut of Colin Farrell’s real Irish accent, this film succeeds in the quirkiest of ways with the crazy Walken-isms of Walken himself as elderly for-profit dog-napper Hans. Framed at first as Irish alcoholic, Marty is writing a screenplay for a new movie about seven different psychopaths. The problem is he only has the title so far, and his best friend Bill Bickle (the incorrigible Sam Rockwell) decides to help him write. While it becomes more and more apparent as the film unravels that it won’t be another rehashed ensemble criminal comedy, these psychopaths add life, hilarity, and scratch-your-head moments to director Martin McDonagh’s off-the-tracks commentary coaster.
Part of its genius is owed to its jumpy, kinetic style that relies on stories-within-stories. For much of the film, the audience is unsure which parts are real and which imagined as part of Marty’s screenplay, which is the bait part of the bait-and-switch plot crux. The plot of the film masquerades as the plot of Marty’s screenplay (potentially) as it comes out more and more that the psychopaths he writes about, and supposedly made up, are actually people he knows. It’s so meta that it’s difficult enough to think about the layers concretely and nigh-impossible to write an adequately descriptive paragraph in less than 1500 words. Someone could probably do a dissertation, but I’m not sure it’s worth it, and it would doubtless be so meta in itself that everyone would just up and die.
At a particularly tense-and-whirling part of the film, Walken sums up the major crux of director McDonagh’s commentary: “Friends don’t make friends die for them!” yells Marty. Hans counters, “Psychopathic friends do. You’re the one that thought they were so interesting. It gets tiring after awhile, doesn’t it?”
That we as moviegoers have been gravitating more and more towards the behind-closed-doors stories about deranged weirdos and killers, and moreover admiring such characters, is a good idea to consider while experiencing this movie. If it were a simpler project, that would probably end up being the whole point. Luckily, however, there is enough extra to tickle the synapses of most parts of the brain, including those governing surprise, sick humor, schadenfreude, and awe.
If nothing else, the incredible abilities of seasoned actors to embody such crazy bastards should draw people to see this film. It features the likes of Woody Harrelson as batshit gangster Charlie who really, really loves his dog, Tom Waits as bunny-wielding serial killer Zachariah, and a few women who look good but can’t string together a sentence and die within twenty minutes. Or was that last one just a reference?
Psychopaths does not absolutely succeed; were it slightly more linear, slightly less self-referential, and just a hair less — dare I say it — zany, it would be better crtitically acclaimed and curmudgeonly genre die-hards would have less to gripe about. As is, the film may be fodder for hatred from those who either don’t fully understand (youngins and the non-pop culture obsessed) or who aren’t willing or wanting to digest nonnarrative experiments in the mainstream movie canon. As a caveat, it’s also pretty gory, but not more so than the movies it mirrors.
But for those who are game for the awkward-on-purpose dialogue and peripatetic plot, Seven Psychopaths is a thrilling, bloody crescendo of bizarreness sure to inject some psychosis into your weekend date night.
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