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Seven Psychopaths Review: We're Never Gonna Survive Unless We Get A Little Crazy

By TK | Film Reviews | October 12, 2012 | Comments ()


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At first glance, there's a great deal to be excited about when it comes to Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths. It's got an absolutely rock-solid cast, including Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko -- and that's just scratching the surface. It's written and directed by McDonagh, who brought us one of the most enjoyable surprises of the last ten years with the delightful In Bruges. Yet the concept was almost killed by its own weirdness -- Marty, a struggling, alcoholic author (Farrell) is trying to write a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths, and gets swept up in the hijinks of his dog-kidnapper friend Billy (Rockwell) and Billy's religiously devout partner Hans (Walken), when they steal the dog of a vicious mobster (Harrelson).

It sets the stage for a relatively simple madcap caper flick, wherein Marty and company are frantically trying to escape the pursuit of the dogged (natch) gangster and his goons (which include terrific character actors Kevin Corrigan and Željko Ivanek). But the surprise is that Seven Psychopaths isn't that film at all. On the surface, I suppose it is, and you'll certainly enjoy their hijinks and hilarity as they encounter any number of bizarre personalities. But the curveball is that Marty is writing about seven psychopaths, and some of them are real, while some of them are fictitious, and some of them are closer to him than he thinks. The film has a fun time slowly revealing who the real psychopaths are and delving deep into the psyche of all of its players, revealing each of their respective neuroses and psychoses.

Yet there's one more layer to it, which is that it's also an extremely subtle -- yet scathing -- send-up of the conventional Hollywood action/caper film. McDonagh hasn't just written a movie, he's written a statement of how ridiculous the onslaught of Hollywood cliche is, and it's done in such a sly, meta fashion that it's almost hard to recognize what is legitimate plot development and what's the writer/director having fun at our -- and the industry's -- expense. Marty is at one point criticized by one of his friends as having paper thin, poorly developed female characters who have little useful dialogue and are basically eye candy. And with that said, there are three female characters -- two of which have little useful dialogue and are -- wait for it -- basically just eye candy. One of the characters goes to painstaking steps to set up what he hopes to be a final, massive gunfight, and then is hysterically irate when it doesn't live up to his expectations. Yet somehow, it all flows together organically into one bizarre, intertwining series of stories.

The film uses its own story and characters as a weapon to show you the inherent goofiness of the genre, yet it also has a vein of deadly seriousness to it that's almost jarring at times. Walken's relationship with his cancer-stricken wife (Linda Bright Clay) is an absolute heart-breaker, and it's that type of serious, well-executed melodrama that makes the film so absorbing while constantly keeping the viewer off-balance. It's funny as hell, to be sure, but there are moments of serene genius as well as grim, almost gruesome realism. Yet McDonagh also uses that very gruesomeness as its own form of satire as he shows the horrible doings of his group of psychopaths.

And they are a delight, these collected crazy people. Harrelson's Charlie Costello is a sneering, strutting jackass who is undone by his simpering adoration of his little Shih-Tzu, and her disappearance brings out the sap and the psycho in him (the character was originally to be played by Mickey Rourke who quit and notoriously called McDonagh a "jackass." I think we should all be grateful for that turn of events). Tom Waits is spectacularly creepy as the quietly vengeful, bunny-stroking serial killer who Marty stumbles into interviewing for his screenplay. But the film is built on the foundation of Farrell, Rockwell, and Walken, and they are collectively and individually perfect. I'm convinced that McDonagh has a gift when it comes to Farrell, as he's coaxed out the two best performances of his career. Farrell is tired and listless and frustrated and furious, and he fluidly navigates those emotions seamlessly. Rockwell is an absolute lunatic, the crazy friend that you almost wish wasn't your friend. He's (unsurprisingly) the comic gem of the film, yet also speaks with such a painful earnestness that you want to pat his head a little. Walken, as the beguiling yet bewildered, cravat-wearing philosopher is, despite that odd grouping of descriptors, surprisingly subdued, with marvelous effect.

But to give you anything more is to begin to chip away at the enjoyment of the experience as a whole. Seven Psychopaths is not just several intertwining stories, it's several intertwining ideas and criticisms and celebrations. Part of the fun is figuring out what he's trying to do and say through the medium of film, while trying to work out what's real and what's in Marty's head. It's weird and fun and sad and gross and clever, and it's easily one of my favorite movie-watching experiences of the year.







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • WestCoastPat

    Still not sure what I thought of this film. I think I understood what the director was trying to do, and your review seems to confirm that feeling, but I'm not as sure that it was successful. The Hollywood satire, especially as it related to Rockwell's character towards the end, felt a bit forced, and the Rockwell character didn't hang together as the story went on.

    Also, I can't help but feel to a certain extent that the criticism of female characters only served to provide excuse for the film's lack of developed female characters.

    Walken was good, but the role didn't feel like much of a stretch.

    My feelings on this film may change. I wasn't able to process a lot of it immediately, as I needed to comfort someone that was quite bothered by the end of the film. One of the annoying side effects of when a film pulls a complete shift from the trailer (another issue for another time)

  • My sister and I are going to see this one together... eventually. Problem is we live several states away from eachother but know that this is a much watch together experience.

  • Tinkerville

    Saw this last night and it was so completely different than what I expected, but in a very interesting and strange way. I left the theater going "Huh. Okay. Yeah, that was pretty cool." And then when I woke up this morning after ruminating on it some more it seemed so much more brilliant. It kind of had to stew for a while in my brain but it was completely worth it.

  • TK

    That is almost EXACTLY what happened with me. I left the theater liking it, and by the time I finished my 45 minute drive home, I was in love with it.

  • junierizzle

    You know what this movie is!? Great!

  • no one

    Sounds like this moving lives up to every thing that poster promised and then some. Can't wait to see it.
    I am confused by the first line of the review though, "At first glance, there’s a great deal to be excited about when it comes to Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths". Sounds like there should have been a 'but' after that and there was no 'but'. I guess by now I should be used to being promised but and not getting but.

  • Despite the dark humor and end of In Bruges, I could watch that movie over and over in a day. It's absolutely fantastic and I'm glad that this one lives up to my expectations (or will, once I go see it).

  • Even Stevens

    Random thoughts with ESteves:

    1) I'm really glad to hear this is worth a shot, I've already got a ton of excitement built up to see it.

    2) I hate you for getting a Seal song stuck in my head.
    2a) Seal? Really, TK?

    3) Until about five minutes ago, I have always thought that lyric said "unless we get a lid on crazy"

  • Jim Slemaker

    Didn't get past the line in the review "the 'delightful' In Bruges".

  • Wōđanaz Óðinn

    Shame. It was a very well written review. You must have the attention-spa...
    OOOH! SQUIRREL!

  • I'd be really excited about this movie judging by the review and the cast and the trailer and everything, but it's not coming to my local theater so I don't get to be excited about it.

    I hate you all so much right now.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Thanks TK, best review I've read in a while. Can't wait to see this.

  • AudioSuede

    This is a fantastically written review that gives me terrific perspective going into this film. I was worried from the trailers that he was playing it as a straight action-comedy, but you've reassured me AND enlightened me. This is all good news for me.

  • KatSings

    I love McDonagh. Have for a very long time, and own all of his plays. I don't care if Rourke were to be right - jackass or not, McDonagh is still on my top 10 list for directors I'm dying to work with someday.

  • Jeremy Carrier

    I don't know. It sounds like a movie that wants to have it's cake and eat it, too. Wants to be a satire of cliche Hollywood caper films, but it's also a pretty darn entertaining version of the thing it's trying to criticize contradicting it's own message. Having poorly-written female characters doesn't really get excused if you just point out, "hey, isn't it funny how much of a boy's club this film is?" The lampshading doesn't remove the object, it just makes it more apparent and glaring.

    I'll see this film, but Argo comes first.

  • tamatha_uhmelmahaye

    Ooooh. This sounds excellent. I shall add it to my mental list of movies to see. Let's hope I don't forget this one.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Sounds like it turned out just as fantastic as we all hoped it would. Can't wait to see it.

  • Groovy, Marsha.

  • Vi

    Both Seven Psychopaths AND Argo are good?! YES!

    *Runs around in happy circles*

    Oh end of workday, you cannot come soon enough.

  • BierceAmbrose

    So, that's like sign number 6? Better see both movies right away, before stuff gets real.

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