Dir. Martin McDonagh
When the plot of a film entitled Seven Psychopaths involves one guy asking another to help him write a redemptive movie about seven psychopaths, the meta hits the fan real quick.
Martin McDonagh, an Irish playwright and relative newcomer to film, writes and directs with his characteristic flair for comic violence, a la Lieutenant of Inishmore and In Bruges. McDonagh adds a second comic turn here, using a film-within-a-film to comment on the construct of film itself. But that irony ultimately asks too much of McDonagh’s little dark comedy.
In the first layer of the film, Marty (Colin Farrell), bearing a shortened version of McDonagh’s own name, works as a Hollywood screenwriter. His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) works in the dognapping business to help Hans (Christopher Walken) collect ransom money for his wife’s cancer treatment.
Desperate to get involved in the movie-making business, Billy pitches the climactic shoot-out scene for the seven psychopaths’ movie-within-the-movie. He explains, “You can’t kill the animals in the movies, only the women.”
While Rockwell performs the line ironically and McDonagh wrote the movie with parody in mind, the flick does nothing but conform to Billy’s pronouncement. The dog — in this case a Shih Tzu owned by a trigger-happy dude named Charlie (Woody Harrelson), whose only warm-fuzzy exists for that dog — does in fact survive the movie. The only woman with significant character development, Hans’ wife Myra (Linda Bright Clay), gets shot in the back of the head.
The death of Myra marks the point at which parody becomes indulgence. McDonagh points out the shallow aspects of cinematic shoot-‘em-up joyrides, but offers no alternative. Billy only delivers some grandiose moralizing to compensate for his fantasies of taking all the “psychos” down.
When Billy offers the idea to meet Charlie in the desert for the dramatic exchange of the Shih Tzu, Marty does inject a moment of sanity, asking “What do you think we should do in real life?”
McDonagh took evident pains with the writing, down to the very bones of sentence construction, but there simply isn’t enough of a coherent plot to back up his thought-provoking language. An all-star acting ensemble delivers McDonagh’s clever dialogue for some really lovely moments that would carry more weight as individual vignettes.
Walken’s character Hans perhaps gives the most succinct summary. Speaking to Marty when every psychopath’s dirty little secret has started to come out, Hans says, “You’re the one thought psychopaths were so interesting. They get pretty tiresome, don’t they?”
Yes, yes they do.