Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review: "Seven Psychopaths"

In 2009 Martin McDonagh thrilled audiences with the black comedy In Bruges, which starred Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell. The story, involving a hit-gone-wrong that forces two Irish hitmen to hide out in Belgium, won McDonagh an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. In Bruges was darkly funny and slightly violent, but McDonagh's newest film, Seven Psychopaths, amps up the humour and the violence. It also features a fantastic cast, including Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits (the man responsible for writing the theme song for The Wire). The film blurs the lines between fiction and metafiction (a film in which film production plays an integral role). The film's protagonist, Marty (Farrell), is a screenwriter unsuccessfully trying to write a screenplay entitled Seven Psychopaths. He is inspired by fictional and real-life stories that seem to come to life. Seven Psychopaths is an inventive comedy from an emerging director who had a lot to prove after In Bruges. The actors in the film, especially Christopher Walken, create such vibrant characters that the film feels like a guilty pleasure. There are a few complications within the story, a few things that feel awkward and do not work very well, but because McDonagh is experimenting with metafiction, I am willing to forgive a few inconsistencies. And there is a fantastic cameo appearance from Gabourey Sidibe. Seven Psychopaths is a riotously funny film about a group of ill-mannered and imbalanced men that takes so many twists and turns that you can never be too sure what is really going on.

Marty (Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter. He is trying to start a script for his idea Seven Psychopaths. His friend Billy (Rockwell) is an unemployed actor who tries to help Marty focuses by offering him ideas... and distractions. Billy is also a dog thief. His dog-stealing partner is Hans (Walken), a soft-spoken man with a very violent past. Hans' wife Myra (Linda Bright Clay) is in the hospital with cancer and he needs money to cover her treatments. Billy tries to help Marty by putting an ad in the newspaper looking for people with psychotic stories. The two meet Zachariah (Waits), an eccentric man with a pet rabbit, who also has a troublesome past. Both of Billy's plans, helping Marty and stealing dogs, go awry when he and Hans steal Charlie's (Harrelson) dog. Charlie is a gangster who will do anything to get his Bonny back.

Seven Psychopaths is written, directed and produced by Martin McDonagh, who has written eight stage plays. His first film, the short Six Shooter (2005), won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. McDonagh expertly mixes violence and comedy to create sinfully enjoyable black comedies. Watching Seven Psychopaths, I was reminded of a British black comedy that I saw at TIFF this year. Sightseers, directed by Ben Wheatley and written by its stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, mixes supreme, often overly realistic violence with black comedy. It is jarring and provocative. McDonagh, on the other hand, uses violence as a comedic tool, more like the violence in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (certainly in the scene where The Bride fights the Crazy 88). Interestingly enough, both Seven Psychopaths and Sightseers premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. This is also the second collaboration between Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell. Farrell has never been one of my favourite actors, but In Bruges is absolutely his crowning achievement in my eyes (he was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical of Comedy). With McDonagh, Farrell is able to harness his energy and create an empathetic, but incredibly flawed character. Christopher Walken is worthy of most of the accolades for his performance in the film, but Colin Farrell deserves to be praised for a great performance. It is also interesting to note, in terms of metafiction, that Farrell's character is named Marty while the film's director is named Martin (but they do not share the same last name). Seven Psychopaths is brutally violent, but it also brutally funny. It is one of the best films I have seen this year. There is nothing better than a black comedy done right.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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