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April 2013

7 Psychopaths

cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, and Abbie Cornish

director: Martin McDonagh

110 minutes (15) 2012
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2
[released 15 April]

RATING: 7/10
review by J.C. Hartley

7 Psychopaths

After the unalloyed joy that was Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the satisfyingly warped mismatched buddy movie that was brother John Michael McDonagh's The Guard, also starring Gleeson and co-star/ producer Don Cheadle on sabbatical from his duties as Tony Stark's best friend Jim Rhodes, 7 Psychopaths had to be one of the most eagerly awaited follow-up films. Did McDonagh suffer from difficult-second-movie-syndrome? And is 7 Psychopaths, in which Farrell's alcoholic Irish screenwriter struggles with his script, the film of McDonagh's struggle to overcome that expectation and get something made?

Well, probably not. Don't confuse the map with the territory, and the life with the work; but 7 Psychopaths is a movie about movie-making, or movie-writing, and makes no pretence of disguising that fact. Yes, well, of course it is, the lead character pleasingly underplayed by Farrell, is a screenwriter after all, but the film is peppered with allusions, and the supporting cast constantly refer to genre tropes, their lives are movies, and the little stories they tell about themselves are screenplays in waiting. Farrell is Marty, a blocked writer; he has a title '7 Psychopaths', and the germ of an idea, a study of seven different kinds of psychopath, or at least their stories.

Meanwhile a masked killer, the Jack of Diamonds, is offing mob foot-soldiers. Marty has issues with his girlfriend Maya (Abbie Cornish), or at least she has issues with his drinking. Marty's best friend, out-of-work actor Billy (Sam Rockwell), doesn't like Maya, and is trying to help Marty with his screenplay, at one point by advertising for psychopaths to get in touch. Along with his friend Hans (Christopher Walken), Billy is running a dog-napping scam, whereby they snatch the pets of wealthy local residents and then return them for the rewards. By accident, or design, Billy steals the shih tzu of definitively psychotic local gang-boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who will stop at nothing to get his beloved pooch back. Marty, Billy, and Hans, must go on the run with the pet dog while still wrestling with Marty's plot.

Admittedly patchy and episodic, the thinnest of plots fills in its gaps with the back stories of some of its characters, Hans' pursuit of the reformed killer who slaughtered his daughter, threatening to follow him even beyond the grave, Tom Waits' itinerant psychopath who turned his back on a vigilante career with his girlfriend, they tracked down and executed the Zodiac killer, who approaches Marty in an attempt to get her back via an appeal at the end of his movie. Notably, we are offered no explanation for Billy's actions beyond his desire to help his friend.

Very bloody and violent, and peppered with F, C and even a couple of N-bombs, 7 Psychopaths still manages to be funny, although any smiles are wry ones, and while it does not entirely match the charm of its Belgian predecessor it has excellent performances at its core. Walken is brilliant as Hans, and Rockwell continues with the strength to carry his scenes that he showed throughout Moon, and even in those two critical misfires Iron Man 2, and Cowboys & Aliens. Farrell as the psychosis-free Marty underplays generously, reacting with escalating alarm at the life-threatening situations his friends have placed him in, but never forgetting to reach for his notebook. McDonagh does try to have his cake and eat it, the female characters, with the exception of Hans' wife Myra (Linda Bright Clay), are underwritten, a fact that Hans comments on while reading Marty's script.

Towards the end of In Bruges, Ralph Fiennes' British gangster brushes aside the complaints of Farrell's landlady remarking, "But this is the shoot-out," and the shoot-out occupies a significant portion towards the end of this picture. Tarantino and Leone are inevitably referenced, as are dream and fantasy sequences, there is even, in Waits' reminiscence of his meeting with his girlfriend, a possible nod towards M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable. The movies are obsessed with killers and, while 7 Psychopaths only acknowledges that obsession in the most playful way, and plays with our increasing tolerance to violence in the process, it manages to stay true to its principles, even if they are in the most part comedic. Marty's film gets made, the film-stock melts in the grid, and Marty is threatened with retribution for breaking a promise, but he's been through a life-changing experience and that holds him in good stead. Maybe it's an allegory of Hollywood after all.

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