SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. Starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson. Directed by Martin McDonagh. Rated MA 15+ (Strong bloody violence and coarse language). 106 minutes.
Two people in the audience, sitting side by side in the cinema, could well be having opposite experiences. One might be thoroughly amused by the bizarre plot and characters as well as the black humour. The next might be finding it quite distasteful, a lot of violence, random and planned, too silly to enjoy. A bit of checking on the film is necessary to decide which seat one wants to sit in.
Martin McDonagh had a great hit with In Bruges. It was bizarre and funny, oddball criminal characters, black humour and wordplay – and the beauty of the city of Bruges. This time he is in Los Angeles, not so beautiful.
Seven Psychopaths is not only the title of the film, it is the title of the potential film within the film. It is being written by Irish screenwriter, Martin (Colin Farrell, this time rather quietly subdued). He is desperate to find some psychopaths to fill out a plot for his title, and he certainly finds them, especially among his friends.
The most psychopathic is actor, Billy, played cleverly with general nonchalance and an amoral outlook on life by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell can take on any kind of role with flair. He does so here. Although rivalry for the title of most psychopathic comes with thug, Charlie, Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is devoted above all people and all things to his pet dog, Bonnie. Billy teams up with Hans (Christopher Walken at his best) to abduct dogs and turn up for the reward. You can see the set-up when Bonnie is dognapped.
Meanwhile, Billy offers all kinds of suggestions for Martin’s film – many played out on screen for the audience. Hans also has suggestions. In the meantime, we see Charlie’ search for his dog who scares the walker who lost his dog by shooting at her, then racially hostilely shooting someone for revenge (real killing, not a scare). It all builds up to a shootout climax, contrived by Billy.
Other characters wander in and out: Charlie’s mistress, Martin’s edgy girlfriend, and Tom Waits with a story all of his own (a violent one) which he wants Martin to put into his film (and he interrupts the film’s credits to complain that it is missing).
Then there is the story of the Viet Cong soldier who plans to murder those responsible for the massacre at My Lai – the subject of Hans’ final suggestion for Martin, described so well by Christopher Walken.
So, a movie about a movie, of how movies and real life can relate and connect – but all with tongue very much in cheek. It won the People’s Choice award for the Midnight Madness screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Not surprising.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out November 8, 2012.