Film Review: Seven Psychopaths (15)

Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths
Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths
Share this article
Have your say

THIS isn’t a film for everyone. Like its characters, Seven Psychopaths is violent, foul-mouthed and messy. But if those caveats whet your appetite, you and Martin McDonagh’s new film are going to get along just fine.

Seven Psychopaths (15)

Director: Martin McDonagh

Running time: 110 minutes

* * * *

McDonagh made his feature movie debut four years ago with In Bruges, a tale of two hitmen cooling their heels in Belgium, which established his gift for ornate profanity and suggested that maybe there was more to Colin Farrell than misjudged blockbusters.

No wonder Farrell is back, befuddled eyebrows working like two athletic caterpillars, this time playing Marty, a hard-drinking screenwriter whose new film is called Seven Psychopaths. Everyone agrees it’s a great title, but that’s as far as Marty has got. For the rest of the movie he tries to hack out a story, drawing from interviewing real-life psychopaths. His caffeinated friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) suggests putting a classified ad in the paper, which draws in Tom Waits, carrying a rabbit, as a serial killer whose specialisation is killing other serial killers.

Meanwhile, Billy and his business partner Hans have drawn another homicidal maniac without having to advertise. They run a dognapping scam, uplifting pets, then showing up with the lost dogs in exchange for a cash reward. Their big mistake is to pick up a Shih Tzu whose adoring owner is an implacable gun-toting gangster (Woody Harrelson).

In this delirious, literate, lively flick, there are nods to the likes of Tarantino and Scorsese (Billy’s second name is Bickle, as if he’s a movie second cousin to the taxi-driving Travis) but this is not just another homage flick.

McDonagh could have got easy laughs using violence as a punchline, but while there are some remarkable jokes (including the first funny throat-slitting suicide), it’s clear that McDonagh has something more in mind than pushing the black comedy envelope, or emulating one of Charlie Kaufman’s brain-bending meta movies – although what we’re watching is the screenplay that Marty is writing, in different drafts.

Often our conscience is eased when watching hip violence, because the person getting bloodily rubbed out onscreen doesn’t have a soul to lose; they are just an action figure in a movie. McDonagh attempts to say something about the responsibilities of this kind of storytelling, which is why Farrell’s character gets told off at one point for writing terrible female characters who do nothing or get killed off.

Sexism and gratuitous violence may not be novel issues, and maybe McDonagh could articulate some more profound points next time, but the attempt to seed a compulsive garish guddle with something thoughtful means I’m inclined to give him a pass all the same.

It’s typical of the film’s chaos that I’m not entirely sure the parade of lethal offings adds up to seven psychopaths in Seven Psychopaths, but all of the murderers are well chosen and are given smart and interesting things to say. It’s nice to see Harry Dean Stanton as a Quaker killer, and Christopher Walken is a pleasure, his face a road map to his character and his pronunciation of the word “hallucinogens” unbelievably earning a laugh in its own right.

All the leads are well chosen, turning farce with thriller overtones into a uniquely tasty movie. Admittedly, there are longueurs, but when it’s funny, it’s hilarious; when it’s tense, it’s powerful; and most of the time, its demented brio is a joy to watch. «

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot

On general release from Wednesday