“Seven Psychopaths” puts together a dynamite premise, one of the year’s best casts, and a director who’s clearly on the assent. It doesn’t quite hold together at the end, but it’s quite audacious, and supremely entertaining throughout.
The film is directed by Martin McDonagh, the Irish playwright best known for directing the superlative 2008 film “In Bruges.” The new film has a lot of similarities- Colin Farrell in the cast, a lot of violence and creatively abusive language and some seriously dark undercurrents.
“Seven Psychopaths” is a Southern California crime saga that almost certainly would’ve been accused of ripping off Quentin Tarantino, had it been made in 1996, although Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation” is clearly a huge influence as well.
Farrell is an alcoholic screenwriter, fascinated with the idea of psychopathy despite not really being one himself. His shady best friend (Sam Rockwell) and his partner (Christopher Walken) have a side business kidnapping dogs and returning them for the reward money, which puts them at odds with a sadistic, dog-loving crime boss (Woody Harrelson.)
There’s a lot more going on, too- singer Tom Waits has a dynamite small turn as an aging psycho telling Farrell a story, while various other actors appear in either dream or screenplay-within-the-screenplay sequences. The “Boardwalk Empire” duo of Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg also make a brief appearance. There’s even a masked “mystery killer,” and a bit involving a murderous Asian man in a priest collar.
Throughout, the dialogue is super-sharp and very, very funny. But the other current at work here is a look at the nature of storytelling and unreliable narration, complete with all sorts of metatextual references.
Various themes repeat themselves, first in the main story and then in Farrell’s screenplay, and the script has so little use for its female characters (Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe, Olga Kurylenko) that it makes a meta-joke out of how they were all either murdered or otherwise dispatched early on.
The only place the film really steps wrongly is in the third act, when the story moves from Los Angeles to the desert and slows way down. I understand what the filmmakers were trying to do, but it’s ultimately just a little too cute.
Still, the film has some of the best dialogue in recent memory, and the performances are excellent across the board, especially from Rockwell and Walken.