Monday, 5 November 2012
FILM REVIEW: SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS
One thing a writer enjoys more than a complex character or an original storyline is a welcome distraction, particularly when the words simply refuse to flow. So it is for Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell), an ex-pat Irishman screenwriter living in L.A. and struggling to come up with a screenplay.
He's got the title – Seven Psychopaths – and that's pretty much it. That's why Marty's always grateful (if not exactly happy) when his friend, Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), a struggling actor with a sideline in dognapping, stops by. Billy's amusing company for the most part, you know, when he's not calling Marty out on his fondness for alcohol or is insisting to co-write with him (although he gives the Irishman one or two psychopathic anecdotes to springboard from).
But Billy's input and friendship are about to bring Marty a whole world of trouble. Worlds – and fact and fiction – collide when Billy steals the dog of a pooch-loving mobster, and real life psycho, Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). This places Marty, Billy, and the latter's business partner, Hans (Christopher Walken), who may or may not be the source of one of Billy's psychopath anecdotes, in the crosshairs of Costello and his henchmen.
After the success of his feature film debut, In Bruges (one of my Top 10 Films of 2008), McDonagh was no doubt feted by Hollywood producers who wanted him to come to LA. and produce another film about wisecracking hit men only, you know, with Americans and more bullets and blood.
And there's certainly plenty of the latter. But what Seven Psychopaths also has is smarts. Like 2002's Adaptation, the Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman riff on the plight of a writer suffering a creative block whilst employed to adapt a bestselling novel, and becoming a character in his own screenplay as a result, McDonagh's film is as knowing and Meta as anything Kaufman – or current Meta-meister, Joss Whedon – could conjure.
But while Farrell's Marty is a barely disguised avatar for McDonagh, it's Rockwell's Billy Bickle who gets the lion's share of the best lines and the resultant laughs. Whether dissing Marty's girlfriend (an underused Abbie Cornish), or reciting by the camp fire, following the trio's decamping to the desert, how he thinks the third act of Marty's screenplay should climax, the always wonderful character actor is on fire.
Walken is terrific, too, with Hans the closest McDonagh comes to investing Seven Psychopaths with an actual heart. The elderly but no less debonair Pole (and maybe one-time Quaker) with a penchant for peyote, has a good heart but nothing to lose once he loses his wife (Linda Bright Clay).
McDonagh may seem like he, too, has nothing to lose – except maybe some fans disappointed that Psychopaths is not In Bruges 2.0 – going for broke with the violence, and dialogue to offend most everyone: there's a couple of n-words, more than the occasional c-bomb, and fag is liberally deployed.
But McDonagh, a playwright first and foremost, is more wordsmith than provocateur. He and his actors (including wonderful cameos by Gabourey Sidibe and Tom Waits) have fun with each other and the audience, at the expense of Hollywood, masculinity and yes, the none-too-easy but sometimes too precious act of writing. And this writer welcomed the distractions which Seven Psychopaths offered.