September 14, 2012

SHOWBUZZDAILY @ TORONTO: “Seven Psychopaths”


Few movies are as wholeheartedly dedicated to meta-ness as Martin McDonagh’s SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS.  The title of the movie is also the title of the script its main character Marty (Colin Farrell)–which, I believe, is short for “Martin”–is trying to write.  It’s also a tally that the movie keeps track of as the story moves along, although pay attention, because the count gets tricky along the way.  Ultimately, the picture consumes itself in framing devices and digressions, but it has a fairly good time getting there.

On one level, Psychopaths is a Tarantino-cum-Elmore Leonard tale of bloody, comic, low-life crime.  Marty’s best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is in partnership with Hans (Christopher Walken) in a disreputable plan to kidnap Beverly Hills dogs and then return them for a reward that’s tantamount to a ransom.  One day, they make the mistake of taking the shi-tzu belonging to gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who is ferociously determined to get his pet back and kill whoever took her.  That sets in motion a series of comically savage murders, as various characters start hunting one another.

Meanwhile, Marty has the title of a movie but not the characters or plot, and he seeks out actual psychopaths to give him inspiration (not realizing he’s surrounded by plenty of them already).  This leads to several movies-within-the-movie, as people like Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Waits turn up as characters who might end up in Marty’s script.  Some of these tales, as we discover, are not only true, they’re actually about other characters in the movie.

The meta-ness is omnipresent.  If you’ve noticed that the woman characters (Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko as less than endearing girlfriends) have little to do, before long someone will comment that Marty’s woman characters are weak.  When a character passes a site in the desert and notes that it would be the perfect place for a movie’s final showdown, you can bet that’s where the last reel will take place.  Various characters, in criticizing Marty’s script, provide preemptive satiric cover for criticisms of McDonagh’s.  It’s all very clever, but after a while it’s evident that the film is taking a direct route up its own fundament. 

This is all somewhat disappointing from McDonagh, whose In Bruges was one of the genuinely fresh and well-written comic thrillers of the past few years, and who has written celebrated plays like The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Pillowman (as well as the more problematic A Behanding in Spokane, which featured Rockwell and Walken on Broadway).  For all its madly spinning antics, Psychopaths feels lazy by comparison, as though McDonagh couldn’t be troubled to write a real story with real characters, or for that matter to say anything new or interesting about Hollywood, thrillers or storytelling.

That’s not to say the movie isn’t entertaining.  Walken and Rockwell go to town on the general weirdness, that being what they do best, and it’s a joy to watch the two of them (with Harrelson close behind) devour every tasty line-reading and crazy plot twist.  (Farrell is more of a straight man here.)  As long as you don’t care about, you know, caring at all about the plot or characters, there’s always something amusing going on and a fun character actor on screen.

Seven Psychopaths isn’t a movie for a mainstream audience, which is likely to be tired out by its “look at me!” plots within plots, and it feels both too calculated to be a true cult movie, and too vacuous to be a genuine commentary on cult movies.  It’s an enjoyable curiosity.



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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."