Behold the PSYCHOS.
Starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Olga Kurylenko, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh
This movie is much better than its previews; in fact Seven Psychopaths might be the best movie I’ve seen all year. It’s super gory and weirdly paced at times but its deliberate and sole purpose is simply to mess with us, which is does well. It's certainly grim, warped and perfect for the season.
Beginning with cameos from two Boardwalk Empire alumni, Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg, it’s easily the best opening scene since David Cronenberg’s History of Violence. Hank Williams breaks through the intro credit roll with a great unreleased demo, “Angel of Death,” and everything starts to play out like a badly stacked deck of cards.
The plot is based on the intersection of a serial killer who is killing bad guys, a dog napping ring and an alcoholic writer. But what this flick is really about is taking irreverent pot shots at Hollywood action pictures, sex and violence, screenwriting, alcoholism, egos, and basically life’s absurdities in general. All this is acted out by an all-star cast, many members of which have played psychos before (see box below for more on that).
One might ascertain that’s a lot to deal with, but not so in the hands of writer/director/actor Martin McDonagh. McDonagh, responsible for 2008’s In Bruges and the daring stage oddities Pillow Man and Behanding in Spokane, generates some of the best dialogue in movie history with some great quotable one-liners.
At the crux of this movie is Colin Farrell as Marty trying to eek out a screenplay as his world is crumbling around him. But are we watching that, or are we watching the acting out of the screenplay, or are we just watching dream sequences? Parallels to the script being written and the film we’re watching get twisted up and surreal, yet under the deft leadership of McDonagh the plot is still easy to follow.
With his metaphoric knife going deeper with every twist, Mcdonagh’s visionary myriad blitzkrieg attacks on all things sacred never gets tiresome. He has made a brilliant movie out of bad movie ideas. His sardonic wit whips out the irony and pathos intelligently while dripping with so much sarcasm that you could ladle up its generous helpings and serve it in other movies.
Even without all the deeper stuff, the movie is interesting. On one hand we have the problem that there aren’t really seven psychopaths… or are there? That’s the premise, of course, but as one starts keeping score the count doesn’t seem to add up. Helping with the psychopathic body count, a steady array of great character actors come and go, including the great Harry Dean Stanton and Kevin Corrigan. There’s even a Vietnamese psychopath detour that veers way into left field. Women do not fare well in this flick and that is so intentional that it puts a whole new label on dark humor.
And then there are the performances. Sam Rockwell does this all over the map manipulative thing, keeping us guessing about his sanity and IQ. It’s fun to watch the wheels turning in his brain.
Colin Farrell plays the straight man as McDonagh’s alter ego, the alcoholic writer and it’s almost maddening to see him go against type, all reeled in, when we know he is capable of going ballistic in a moment’s notice.
Christopher Walken is mesmerizing in a way I’ve never really seen before. He’s the old timer with a meditative outlook on life, living an existential life of crime with a cause while maintaining an odd sense of dignity. He is eccentric, nuts and lovable.
Woody Harrelson (who took over the role after Mickey Rourke dropped out) is once again amazing as the hot-tempered mob boss/killer whose beloved Shih Tzu gets kidnapped. His slow burn and simultaneous crybaby antics have you rolling on the floor with laughter and cowering with fear deep in your heart thanks to his psychopathic instincts.
Tom Waits shows up just to steal every scene he’s in.
This movie is not for everyone although everyone should see it. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’re the kind person who likes a movie to make you think, and make you put wacked-out puzzle pieces together, and make you feel as though you’ve been bopped on the head with blood-drenched black comedy, then definitely see this flick. At the very least, razor-sharp dialogue will be playing over and over in your head for days.