Director: Martin McDonagh
MPAA Rating: R
When Martin McDonagh burst onto the scene four years ago with the incredibly funny – but almost gleefully offensive – In Bruges, it gave him almost immediate credibility as both a writer and director. In Bruges, in addition to giving people a reason to like Colin Farrell again, was a shot in the arm to the art of comedic filmmaking, and garnered McDonagh’s screenplay a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
Its four years later and McDonagh – with Farrell in tow – is back with his follow-up, Seven Psychopaths. Armed with a stellar cast and burdened by the pressure of expectations, how did McDonagh fare his second time out?
The answer is “Incredibly well.” In many ways, Seven Psychopaths is the natural progression of everything McDonagh did in In Bruges. He added more characters and made the same dynamic work, the story was even more twisted and off-the-wall, the directorial choices more bold, and the performances were just that much better.
Farrell plays Martin, a Hollywood screenwriter with an Australian girlfriend and a case of writer’s block. He’s stuck in a rut on his next movie, not-coincidentally also called Seven Psychopaths. He’s a pacifist and a drunkard and pals around with Billy (Sam Rockwell, in what might be his most brilliant performance to date), a small-time actor and petty thief whose latest brain-child is stealing people’s dogs, boarding them in a warehouse for a couple of days and then returning them a couple of days later for the reward money.
Assisting Billy in his shenanigans is Hans (Christopher Walken, reminding us all how amazing of an actor he can be), who, when not scamming Los Angeles residents out of cash, spends time visiting his cancer-stricken wife at the hospital.
When Billy steals a dog from a local crime boss (Woody Harrelson), he, Hans and Billy find themselves caught in the crosshairs of a real-life psychopath, one who will do anything to get his dog back.
The brilliance of the film lies in its unconventional direction. Seven Psychopaths is incredibly self-referential. So much, in fact, that in any other movie it would seem obnoxious. Here, though – where the editing and pacing is as (intentionally) scattershot and disjointed as the psychopaths it is about – the meta-nature of the film actually makes sense and when everything finally unfolds in the third act, it becomes obvious that the film could not have been shot or made in any other way and have been nearly as successful.
It’s rare for a comedy to be this steeped in violence and even rarer still to see such a comedy succeed on so many levels. The humor is uncomfortable in a lot of places, but the discomfort is essential. McDonagh’s script is a rather scathing attack on society’s obsession with sociopathic killers, and he is noting how unsettling the notion really is. McDonagh wants you to squirm a bit in your seat even as you’re laughing at what’s on the screen. When Hans addresses Martin’s fascination with psychopaths, only to add “…after a while they get tiresome, don’t you think?” he might as well be – and is – also addressing the audience.
McDonagh has made a film about violence that is, at its heart, really about the futility of violence. It’s funny in all the right places (and even in some of the wrong ones), poignant and even a bit sad. It’s also the best film of the year so far by a desert mile.