A film begins with its script. So when a screenwriter is poised with creating a script for a film entitled Seven Psychopaths and is unable to get past page one (for various reasons), it’s obvious we have a conundrum on our hands.
Marty (Colin Farrell) has found himself, drunk more times than not, staring at a blank notepad still trying to figure out who the seven psychopaths are. As the story goes on, he encounters a series of psychopaths all surrounding a dog kidnapping scheme that Hans (Christopher Walken) and Billy (Sam Rockwell) are running. Billy has picked up a Shih Tzu dog that happens to belong to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who happens to be a raving psychopath who heads up some sort of mob or something.
While this film sets itself up (marketing-wise) as a crazy comedy about this slew of characters, it really isn’t. It’s more about the process of writing, with a lot of blood and guts involved. The film enjoys the use of shocking comedic violence in a way that allows its characters to get a laugh through their situations and reactions more than just through their catchy one-liners. There are some jokes in this movie that are so deeply embedded in character reveals that it’s made for multiple viewings.
Truly enjoyable are the moments where the film plays with structure. At about the halfway point of the film we have our main heroes heading off in a car and they’re having a discussion of what should happen next. They get into the idea of going out into the desert and just having three guys talking for the next hour of the film, at which point they’ve slyly shifted the conversation so as to include not just what they as characters should do but what Marty should do in his script. Billy argues that they need a shootout scene and that anything else would be “a fucking French movie.” However, what makes this all so loveably interesting is that, at that point, the film itself diverges into that distraction in such a way that is just noticeable enough for the joke to be funny without being too on the nose.
Seven Psychopaths also plays a lot with film conventions. During the runtime of the film, as Marty is discovering his psychopath characters, there is a series of shorter films embedded within the movie. Each of these films represents either parts of the story that Marty is writing or that someone else in the film is discussing, like Billy’s first draft of the great end shootout that Marty’s film needs, and each of them seem very specified into genres of action and horror.
There is a very deep discussion to be had as to whether Marty, in the film, is a representation of the film’s writer and director, Martin McDonagh. Both are writers and are spending their time writing a film called Seven Psychopaths. It brings up the question as to what is the film and what is reality. This allows for a lot of the aforementioned breaks in convention to be even more enjoyable, as it tries to put a wrangle on any tropes that you’re used to from a film like this. Even when the movie caves, in some ways, towards the end to those traditional routes to reach the eventual climax, it does so with such panache that you barely even care.
The Upside: Sam Rockwell does a reading of a shootout scene, which is hilarious.
The Downside: It has to end eventually.
On the Side: Greatest cameo I’ve seen from Tom Waits in a long while.