Sunday, November 4, 2012

Movie Meta: Seven Psychopaths

     Seven Psychopaths is one of those films that winks at the audience in a self-aware fashion. Marty (Colin Farrell) is a screenwriter who is writing a script with characters that are like his friends or are his friends. The movie that Marty is writing in Seven Psychopaths is titled "Seven Psychopaths". He basically only has a title until his friends tell him stories or give him ideas about psychotic violent people who murder, maim and torture others. Much of the actual Seven Psychpaths (the one that you and I are watching, not the one in which Marty is writing) takes place inside Marty's mind, playing out his movie within his head. Other scenes showcase Marty's actual life, with a dog-napping plot involving Marty's best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell, in one one of his best performances ever), his accomplice (Christopher Walken) and a dangerous gangster (Woody Harrelson) who has separation anxiety due to his missing Shih Tzu. Sometimes the real Seven Psychopaths blends with Marty's own version. Consequently, the film is a bit jumbled, but it's fun and funny enough to overcome its own messiness.
     When Martin McDonagh broke onto the film-making scene in 2008 with his wonderful black comedy In Bruges, he was rightly labeled as an Irish Tarantino, a writer/director with a penchant for snappy, vulgar dialogue and a visually-cool direction showcasing quick flashes of extreme violence. Seven Psychopaths isn't as coherent as In Bruges--nor is it as good, either--but it still contains the same personal flourishes of McDonagh. Marty is an alcoholic, a writer who seemingly doesn't even know where to begin his story. Rockwell's Billy decides to help his friend out by putting a classified advertisement in a magazine, asking people with crazy stories of insanity to sit down with Marty and tell their stories, sparking some inspiration.Billy kidnaps dogs for a living with his partner Hans (Walken): they go to the city parks, swiping the dogs from rich owners then returning them later for the reward, refusing the money at first like good citizens.
     There are a lot of psychopaths in this film. At least seven. When Billy and Hans take the wrong dog (owned by the previously mentioned Charlie, Harrelson's loose cannon), it sets in motion a series of events that echos some of the plot points in Marty's growing screenplay. There's also a serial killer on the loose offing some of the characters in the film, nicknamed the Jack of Diamonds, because he leaves that specific playing card at each of murders. He comes and goes without much explanation like many of my thoughts in this review. There's also a terrifying Quaker and a Vietnamese suicide bomber who wants revenge because his family got murdered at the massacre at My Lai. I'll leave it to you to find out whether these characters are a part of Seven Psychopaths or the script of Marty's "Seven Psychopaths".
     The best part of this film is easily the fun performances. Farrell's Marty is a nice un-showy acting job, a nervous Irish guy who drinks too much alcohol when he is anxious. He lets the other actors play off of his nervousness.  Harrelson has fun with Charlie, a man who would die for his dog but not for a human. Two portrayals really shined for me: Sam Rockwell (who is always under-appreciated) is totally awesome and badass in Seven Psychopaths. The film, to me, was mainly a showcase of his hilarious insanity. Every sarcastic quip and pull of a gun's trigger was pure comedic excellence (a lot like Farrell's performance in McDonagh's In Bruges). Typically, I find Christopher Walken to be a little too much, as he plays essentially the same character in film after film; that can grow tiresome. But I loved his portrayal of Hans in Seven Psychopaths. He showcases a weirdness and likability, grounding the film closer to reality.
      There isn't much of a female presence in Seven Psychopaths. They're either being called a "fucking bitch" or getting shot in the stomach. But that's not to say the film is sexist: it's so self-aware that the characters talk about females being dispensable characters in typical movies in the same genre. Late in the film, the three friends travel far out into the desert to get away from gangster Charlie, drink, and jointly work on Marty's screenplay. They throw out the idea of a final shootout, guns blazing and heads exploding. Do you think, in a film that's as cognizant of itself as Seven Psychopaths is, the climax matches up with the character's ideas? You should know what to expect in a film that constructs and then dismantles genre conventions as solidly as Seven Psychopaths does.     (B+)

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