Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Mitchell

Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits. Directed by Martin McDonagh.

Seven Psychopaths is a pretty good idea. Marty (Colin Farrell), a struggling screenwriter, is working on a script but so far only has a title: Seven Psychopaths, which everyone who hears about it agrees is a great title. Marty’s friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is an out-of-work actor who makes money by stealing dogs and then returning them for the lost-and-found rewards. Billy’s partner in this scheme is Hans (Christopher Walken). When Billy and Hans unknowingly steal a dog owned by a mobster (Woody Harrelson), all four characters become involved in a strange, bloody story that may or may not be this movie you’re watching.

If the setup reminds you slightly of Adaptation, you aren’t alone. This film is not quite as self-aware or self-referential as that one, but it’s definitely less distantly related than a third cousin, with Inglourious Basterds as a favorite in-law. It’s a bloody, violent, fun story for the first two acts, when it seems to delight in telling its short, psychopathic stories. But as Marty gets the pieces of his script lined up, he lacks a climax and resolution, if he has any plot at all, and the principal characters become players and/or authors in the movie’s too-long, not-very-engaging wrap-up.

There’s got to be a reason for Billy’s last name being the same as one of cinema’s most quoted characters, and for Marty’s extremely bushy eyebrows, but whether they are part of Marty’s creative process or some kind of homage to the characters’ inspirations is never addressed. If in fact we’re looking at a movie written by Marty as he’s putting it together, that seems not to be the emphasis of the movie: trying to connect dots or follow hypotheses to their acceptances is frustrating and fruitless. The most we are encouraged to do is enjoy the ride, which is good enough for the first two-thirds. Somewhere after that, the film starts to drag even as it gets more violent, and when it finally concludes, all I could think was, “Well. That didn’t suck.”

The performances are surprisingly enjoyable. Harrelson, especially, seems to savor his every line of dialogue, and Walken manages not to remind us of the thousands of caricatures we’ve all seen by now, playing quirky but low-key and probably sweeter than I’ve ever seen from him. One critic I follow said this is Sam Rockwell’s best performance, but boy do I have to disagree with that. I really like Rockwell, and I think he’s usually the most interesting thing on any screen he occupies, but the overacting he does here is flat and uninteresting, lacking anything to lift him off the pages of his comic-like script.

Because Adaptation becomes a victim of its own cleverness (and that is a much better-executed film than Seven Psychopaths), one wonders if a truly rewarding movie can made with more than minimal meta-ness. I have high hopes for Cloud Atlas, which is scheduled for release next weekend, but I wonder if this film’s purpose is really to warn me against that; it certainly doesn’t bode well for anything that aspires to being more meta.

4/10
44/100

3 Responses to “Seven Psychopaths (2012)”


  1. Reid

    As I mentioned to you, I totally agree with you about Rockwell’s performance. But I also think most of the other performances are just as flat and uninteresting. I’m having difficulty pinpointing the source of the problem, but I think it is a combination of the following: 1) the writing is mediocre–both in terms of the characters and the dialogue; 2) I’m burnt out on the meta-approach–which was way too close to Adaptation. Basically, the film feels like a mash-up of Kaufman and Tarantino.

    I also wonder if McDonagh–as a director–just had difficulty knowing which scenes were working comedically or not. On the other hand, I know other people who thought the film was funny, so I’m probably wrong about this.

    What’s interesting is that you seemed to like more of the performances (e.g., Harrelson and Walken) than I did, but you gave a much lower score than me–I’d give this a 54/100–mainly because of the vignettes about the psychopaths, especially the one involving the Vietnamese psychopath. I almost feel like the film is an excuse to present these vignettes.

    If in fact we’re looking at a movie written by Marty as he’s putting it together, that seems not to be the emphasis of the movie: trying to connect dots or follow hypotheses to their acceptances is frustrating and fruitless.

    What do you mean by the connecting dots, etc.?

  2. Mitchell

    I’ll answer that later. But first: Do you think there’s more to Billy’s last name being Bickle and Marty’s having huge, dark, bushy eyebrows than just a shout-out to Taxi Driver?

  3. Reid

    Do you think there’s more to Billy’s last name being Bickle and Marty’s having huge, dark, bushy eyebrows than just a shout-out to Taxi Driver?

    I can’t see anything beyond the tip of the hat to the film. The use of “Bickle” might be a clue to viewers paying attention early in the film that the character is also a psychopath.

    As for the bushy eyebrows, I just assumed that that’s Farrell’s normal eyebrows. You think they “fluffed” it up to allude to Scorsese? That would be hilarious, if so, but I didn’t get that sense.

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