Walken Shines in McDonagh’s ‘Seven Psychopaths’
Before my screening of Martin McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths,” the theater showed “Seven Psychocats,” a shot-for-shot parody of the “Psychopaths” trailer, which comically replaces people with cats. Given the trailer’s hilarity, I was hopeful about the impending feature film’s humor. Once the movie started however, I came to a sad realization: I would rather watch a cat voiced by Christopher Walken, than suffer through “Seven Psychopaths” again.
I shouldn’t be that surprised. I never understood the appeal of McDonagh’s “In Bruges,” despite all its critical acclaim. I wanted to give “Seven Psychopaths” a fair chance to astonish me though, since it possesses such a stupendous cast and a fantastic zany premise.
“Psychopaths” follows Marty (Colin Farrell), an alcoholic Hollywood scribe with writer’s block. His life takes a scary turn however, after his friends Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) entangle him in their dognapping racket: Billy abducts dogs from wealthy owners, and Hans benignly returns them for a reward. This time, acting alone, Billy kidnaps the prized Shih Tzu of a ruthless gangster (Woody Harrelson), as part of a plot to collect a hefty ransom.
What’s hilarious is that this murderous mobster Charlie is willing to do anything to get his dog back. So once Charlie discovers that Marty and his friends have the Shih Tzu, he goes on the war path. There is an unexpected plus side to this mess though: the experience stimulates Marty’s imagination and provides him the necessary insight to flesh out his movie.
As the events of McDonagh’s film unfold, they form the basis in Marty’s imagination for what his own movie will be like. In this way, “Seven Psychopaths” almost becomes a frame narrative, where both yarns are writing themselves simultaneously. This outlandish storytelling method makes the flick feel almost like an R-rated version of “The Fall.”
McDonagh acknowledges that the tale is coming together on the fly with Billy’s monologues. Billy’s winking pontifications are so over the top, that they’re on the level of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Only there’s no funny narration directly addressing the audience. Midway through, McDonagh’s film becomes entirely too self-aware, and although no one outright breaks the fourth wall, they might as well, because most of the meta humor is ruined anyway.
With the exception of Colin Farrell, the key actors in “Seven Psychopaths” actually craft entertaining characters. The problem however, is that McDonagh doesn’t have them following interesting arcs. Characters are just dropped in random places together to interact in amusing ways, without doing anything poignant. The film’s biggest turnoffs though, are its excess violence and sexist jokes.
Taking a page out of Tarantino’s book, McDonagh attempts to use extreme violence and gore as a way to generate humor. Although his scenes of brutality are too graphic, so instead of making you laugh, they just create feelings of discomfort even for those with strong stomachs. Additionally, the lack of decent female characters seems to lend itself to misogynist jokes from Rockwell’s Billy. They’re not even particularly funny either. They’re just rude.
The silver lining with this film is that the characters crafted by Rockwell, Harrelson, and Walken are all fun to watch. Rockwell’s Billy is a demented dude with no fear of death, while Harrelson’s Charlie is a bizarre combination of cutthroat and sentimental. Tom Waits is even hilarious in his tiny role, but it’s Christopher Walken who really shines as Hans. Walken is refreshingly stoic and peaceful, completely comfortable in his own skin, in ways we’ve never seen him before. If there’s one important take away from his character and the film, it is, don’t be afraid to be yourself even at the bitter end.
My Grade: C