Martin McDonagh has a darkly comedic view of the world. Despite all of the violence, corruption, and anger, he sees a twisted river of humor rushing through the lands. Nothing is off limits if it serves the purpose of exploring the darkness of humanity through character-driven storytelling and brutal humor.
Seven Psychopaths is a tangled look into the creation of violent folklore. On one level, Hollywood screenwriter Marty gets thrust into the middle of a dognapping scheme run by his best friend Billy and strange old man named Hans. Hans and Billy steal the prized Shih Tzu of a mob boss at the same time his high ranking associates are being killed off by an unknown murderer.
On another level, Seven Psychopaths is the story of a screenwriter composing a genre-bending movie called Seven Psychopaths. He’s struggling to create his characters because he doesn’t want the story to glorify violence and turn into a bloody revenge film. As his life falls apart, he gains inspiration through the twisted rabbit hole of poorly organized crime in his city.
Seven Psychopaths might be Martin McDonagh’s best work to date. The man is responsible for some of the best modern stageplays, including The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, as well as the Academy Award-nominated In Bruges. This film allows him to explore a recurring theme in his work–reality created through personal mythology–in a deeply cinematic way. You see the action of the real life psychopaths as they try to outmaneuver each other over a stolen dog. You also see the imagined life of the fictional psychopaths as Marty writes his screenplay. Reality and fiction begin to intertwine as more characters in the real world find out that Marty is writing a film about psychopaths and want in on the action.
The cast of the film is incredible. Even actors relegated to one or two key scenes, like Gabourey Sidibe as the dogwalker who lost the Shih Tzu and Tom Waits as a bunny carrying psychopath, manage to turn in memorable, shocking performances in only a few minutes. And the casting of the dog was perfect, as little Bonny is perhaps the surliest, most disaffected looking dog I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Martin McDonagh knows how to write great characters and the leading players do not disappoint. Colin Farrell wears a twist on the drunk writer cliche like a well-worn suit. The role fits perfectly and he gets some of the biggest laughs out of anxiety-induced reaction shots. Christopher Walken’s turn as Hans should become an iconic character in the pantheon of film. He gives an adventurous performance as a dangerous man committed to getting into heaven through forced pacifism and charity.
Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell compete for most deranged psychopath in the film and their performances balance each other just right. Woody Harrelson, as unraveling mob boss and dog lover Charlie, is the epitome of a psychopath. He’s loud, he’s off-kilter, he’s unwilling to listen to reason, and he solves every problem with a loaded gun. Sam Rockwell’s Billy is the Norman Baits, “but he seemed like such a nice guy,” type, befriending everyone but quickly betraying their trust with uncontrollable outbursts. No matter what heinous act he commits, he thinks he’s the hero. At least Charlie knows he’s a bad guy; Billy thinks he’s the only normal person in the world.
Seven Psychopaths is one dark comedy. However, it’s not a chuckle and feel sick situation; it’s a laugh out loud comedy. McDonagh’s screenplay and direction marks every act of violence, no matter how gruesome, as a big budget Hollywood cliche. The characters are in on the joke and that allows everyone involved to play fast and loose with the expected tropes of a crime movie.
Have you checked out Seven Psychopaths yet? You really should. I don’t think the devices are going to play as well on a TV screen, but I could be wrong. What are your thoughts? Share them below.