Martin (Colin Farrell) is a screenwriter struggling to write a film around a title. His best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is an aspiring actor who makes money by kidnapping dogs, but when Billy kidnaps the wrong dog, Martin finds himself drawn into a complicated and increasingly odd situation.
Seven Psychopaths is the second feature length film by Martin McDonagh and, while one could argue that he has not yet done enough cinema work to be quite so self referential, it is hard to deny that Seven Psychopaths always keeps the audience guessing. So yes, Colin Farrell plays a character named after the writer, and the character’s woes could well be the woes of McDonagh himself; he suffers from writer’s block, drinks too much, gets dumped and has some rather insane friends. That said, these woes work incredibly well for the character and while he has some misfortune, Martin rarely wallows in misery, he simply gives out about stuff then gets on with it; typically Irish really. Farrell is on fantastic form as Martin; he somehow becomes the voice of sanity in the midst of a lot of craziness but still manages to be funny and slightly over the top.
Sam Rockwell has this manic grin, you know the one I mean, the one where you are not sure whether he is going to kiss you or kill you. Billy has this smile throughout most of Seven Psychopaths and, while you may think this is because the character is a little out of touch with reality, it is more true to say that he is pretty happy with the decisions he has made with his life. Billy may be foul mouthed, but he is, essentially, a character who is devoted to his friends. Rockwell is silly, funny and a little bit scary as Billy and his lack of scruples makes him the perfect foil to the careful Martin. Christopher Walken rounds out the trio as Hans, who falls somewhere in the middle of Martin and Billy. In fact, the audience gets the idea that Hans may well have got his rage out of his system a long time ago and he enjoys his quiet life and devotion to his wife. Walken is subtle and understated in the role and, while this is the type of role that we are used to Walken playing, he is still fascinating and endearing to watch.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Woody Harrelson as a manic and violent cop, Michael Pitt as a would-be gangster, Abbie Cornish as Martin’s much-beleaguered girlfriend, Gabourey Sidibe as an unfortunate dog walker and Tom Waits in a fantastic cameo as a reformed serial killer. While many famous faces pop in and out of the film, they do not detract, in fact they add another layer to a strangely woven story about Los Angeles and its inhabitants.
It seems that Seven Psychopaths is Martin McDonagh’s answer to Adaptation; the Charlie Kaufmann film about writer’s block… Among other things. In that way, Seven Psychopaths may not be entirely original – Kaufmann also wrote himself into his film – but the film is definitely entertaining. There is much made of the clash of cultures and personalities between Martin and Billy, which leads to some strange scrapes and hilarious conversations, but this all takes place within the first half of the film. By the final act, the film appears to run out of steam; the madcap murders slow down as do the revelations of psychopaths. The pace drops right down and the film seems to struggle with the Tarantino-esque dialogue that has been created for the characters. This change of pace is jarring and sightly bewildering.
In all, Seven Psychopaths is a funny, quirky and dark little tale about a writer struggling to balance reality and writing. McDonagh proves that In Bruges was no fluke, but the self-referential aspect of Seven Psychopaths is fun but maybe a little premature. That said, Seven Psychopaths is an entertaining and fun film, even with the odd gear change in the third act.