I've been waiting for the release of Seven Psychopaths ever since I learned that Martin McDonagh was writing and directing. If you have seen In Bruges, you'll know that McDonagh has a dark sense of humor, not too far removed from something Quentin Tarantino might be involved with.
Does Seven Psychopaths match the brilliance of In Bruges? Not quite, but it's still an entertaining movie.
Marty (Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter, who has decided on little more than the title, Seven Psychopaths. The problem is, he wants his psychopaths to be Buddhist, and he can't see how they would go around killing people. He decides to make one Amish instead, for no particular reason. Marty doesn't have a clue about writing.
His friends, Billy (Rockwell) and Hans (Walken), make money by dognapping and returning the animals to their owners in order to claim the reward money. This backfires when they inadvertently take a dog belonging to Charlie (Harrelson), who is some kind of crime lord. You only have to read the tag on the collar of his beloved Shih Tzu to understand Charlie's outlook on life.
Seven Psychopaths is a comedy. It's also extremely violent at times, and has more than its fair share of foul language (including the word that almost every woman detests), with brief nudity and occasional racist remarks. But it's obvious that everything is tongue-in-cheek. It's almost impossible to mistake the movie for a serious drama; it's a fun ride, and the R-rated material does not seem offensive or out of place.
I've already mentioned Tarantino, and for good reason. The genre and setting are almost irrelevant; this is an exercise in style, and you'll either love it or hate it. Dialogue is everything in this type of movie and most of the writing is inventive, witty and intelligent. The opening scene is reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, with two hit men talking nonsense. The scene ends in an unexpected way, and I won't reveal it here, but it sets the tone for the whole movie.
McDonagh is aware of the course that Hollywood action movies are supposed to follow, and Seven Psychopaths challenges those expectations. One character suggests that they pitch a tent in the middle of the desert so they can just sit there and talk, rather than having a traditional shootout with the bad guys. In response, his friend asks whether this is a French movie. It's that kind of humor. Another interchange observes that women have a rough deal in this story; when they aren't being verbally abused, they are in danger of being removed permanently.
I won't say any more about the plot because it's enjoyable seeing things gradually unfold on the screen, except to say that my favorite scene featured Hans making a suggestion about how to end the movie. Walken's comic timing is excellent as always, and his scenes are funnier when you think about some of the characters he has played in the past.
The movie features good performances from Rockwell, Walken, Harrelson and Farrell in particular, although nobody else delivers a weak performance. The audience in my theater laughed often, and occasionally groaned at the unexpected violent scenes. If you go in expecting a dark comedy along the lines of In Bruges, Fargo, or The Guard, you'll likely enjoy the experience. The pacing feels just right.
One thing I should add is that it's best to sit through the credits, or you will miss the final scene.
I'm looking forward to the Blu-ray and the next McDonagh movie. It would be fun to see Brendan Gleeson involved too.