Since the release of In Bruges I have been enthralled by the creative mind of Martin McDonagh. One of the longest academic papers I ever wrote was an examination of how McDonagh’s Bruges represents a purgatory where Colin Farrell’s character awaits judgement. So I couldn’t wait to see the rich themes McDonagh would explore in Seven Psychopaths. Now I can gladly say that Seven Psychopaths is indeed another rich examination of life, death, and violence. What I didn’t know was how personal the film would end up being.
Seven Psychopaths is the story of Marty Faranan (Farrell), a struggling screenwriter with no more than a great title: “Seven Psychopaths”. His best friend is Billy (Sam Rockwell), a likable but mentally unstable actor who runs a dog-kidnapping business with his insightful partner Hans (Christopher Walken). Events are set into motion when Billy kidnaps a Shih Tzu that belongs to none other than Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), a violent mobster. Thus Martin is thrown into Billy’s dilemma where he soon realizes the parallels between the violence of the real world and his own work. The question then being, “Why do we as an audience respond to violent stories? What do violent stories tell us about the world?” Of course that’s just one interpretation. Seven Psychopaths is a rich tapestry of blood and bunny rabbits.
Anyone familiar with Martin McDonagh will instantly see the similarities between himself and the film’s protagonist. Both are Irish writers named Martin that use their work to explore life and death, not much of a veil there. I can’t vouch for the alcoholism part buy hey, he is Irish isn’t he? So you could say Seven Psychopaths is McDonagh’s Adaptation. Both attempt to tackle difficult subjects in a way that’s never been done. In Adaptation, Philip Kauffman is trying to find meaning in something as seemingly mundane as orchid poaching, while McDonagh is trying to tell an anti-violence story about violent psychopaths. Both delve with the author’s struggle to find new meaning in their own work. McDonagh even pokes fun at the cliches of violent movies (including his own) through self-aware dialogue. McDonagh pokes fun at female character’s getting killed off instantly and then what happens? Female characters in Seven Psychopaths are either insignificant or killed off early.
Steering away from the deeper meaning of Seven Psychopaths there’s other aspects of note. The performances are all fantastic, with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell as the biggest standouts. Rockwell delivers what’s the easily the funniest moment of the movie when he suggests a violent shootout ending to Marty’s screenplay, which we get to see visualized on screen. Of course Farrell and Walken are enjoyable, although their roles are more subtle. Tom Waits, believe it or not, is delightful as Zachariah, a bunny-wielding psychopath with a very dark past. I think the success here comes from the fact that all characters feel well lived-in. Also a playwright, McDonagh is a fan of rehearsals and likes to give his actors time to sink into their roles.
Seven Psycopaths is not quite the dark comedic gem that In Bruges was. It’s philosophical approach can make the film feel unfocused and meandering at times. McDonagh isn’t the best at pacing his stories either. It took me a good 15, maybe even 20 minutes to really let Seven Psychopaths sink in. Fortunately, it eventually did and I really enjoyed it. Seven Psychopaths strikes me as the kind of film that can only get better with repeated viewings. The film is so jam-packed with compelling perspectives on life and death that I don’t think this review even scratched the surface of the message.