If you’re reading this because you’re on the fence as to whether or not to go see Seven Psychopaths, then stop now and go see it. I can’t recommend it enough. There were four films that came out this year that I had been looking forward to for a long time: Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers, Rian Johnson’s Looper, and finally Seven Psychopaths, written and directed by the enormously talented Martin McDonagh. When McDonagh’s first film In Bruges came out, my friend Jef interviewed Mr. McDonagh, and encouraged me to read one of his full-length plays called The Pillowman. It changed my life. I have since read all of McDonagh’s work and he is easily my favorite living playwright. On top of that, with only two films under his belt, he is emerging as one of the most exciting filmmakers of our time.
Seven Psychopaths is about a writer, Marty (Colin Ferrell), who is trying to write a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths. Some may draw parallels to Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, but I doubt that anything that happens to the Martin character in the film actually happened in real life. Accompanying Marty on his quest to find good psychopath stories is his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), who works as a dog kidnapper, stealing dogs and returning them for reward money. Things go haywire when Billy and his partner Hans (Christopher Walken) kidnap the dog of a local gangster (Woody Harrelson).
In a perfect world, the cast here will earn a lot of awards and recognition for this film. The entire cast is excellent. Sam Rockwell emerges with a delightfully twisted portrayal of Billy. He is a study in giving a character a strong want, establishing obstacles, and showing what a character is willing to do to get he wants. A lot of the twists and turns of the film revolve around Billy, and while I tend to hate twists, McDonagh pulls them off really well. Probably because he doesn’t do twist endings. This functions eerily similarly to The Pillowman, in which there are a series of reveals and twists throughout the story rather than one big twist (or a collection of twists) in the end.
Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson are both great too. The film has a lot of dark comedy, which Harrelson embodies perfectly. His ruthless gangster persona is constantly undercut by his love for his Shih Tzu. It is consistently hilarious and disturbing. Walken on the other hand is the emotional center of the film. Armed with a rich and interesting back story, Walken’s character is loved and respected by everyone who meets him. I like to imagine this is how Walken’s real life works on a daily basis.
I guess the weakest performance here is Colin Ferrell, but he’s still very good; aptly carrying the weight of the film while the insanity unfolds around him. I can’t really come up with a criticism of his performance. He’s a very good actor, and he does well here. I think maybe it’s just that he doesn’t have as much going on as everyone else. He’s more meant to filter what’s going on for the audience’s consumption, which is important. I have to say too that I was expecting more from Tom Waits’ performance. Literally more. For being so prominently featured in the trailer, Waits has a very small role here. He’s an interesting character, but since he’s not utilized very much in the overall narrative of the film, his portion feels slightly more tacked on.
The rest of the story unfolds in wonderful and unexpected ways. Episodic stories give way to deeper significances as almost every element of the film works to reinforce every other one, driving us forward to one of the best movie endings I’ve ever seen. A lot of different endings are set up in the film, but I’d bet money that no one would be able to actually guess the details of the ending here.
There is a small portion of the film, when Marty, Billy, and Hans are hiding out in the desert where the story slows down and it starts to get a little boring. The dialogue in this section of the film is still quick and well written, but for this brief time we lose the feeling that the plot is moving forward.