A real treat has been watching Martin McDonaugh transition into directing films. He rose to fame and acclaim as a playwright (if you haven’t checked out The Pillowman, do so). In Bruges was his first flick, a deep, funny, but really dark look at life and death and what happens to criminals who make huge mistakes. Seven Psychopaths, his follow-up, is like “Marty goes to Hollywood,” and its more than telling that his (anti-)hero is named Marty, a screenwriter trying to pen a script called “Seven Psychopaths.” McDonaugh’s pulling a Charlie Kaufman here (a la Adaptation), or at least in spirit. He has come up with an ultra-meta deconstruction of crime films, from their psychology to their conventions.
As any screenwriter trying not to go down the usual and expected path, he wants to create a different sort of psychopath, a Buddhist hit man. He reveals this idea to his friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell). Billy gets by as a dog kidnapper, with Christopher Walken as his partner-in-crime, Hans. Billy doesn’t get it—why not make the script more violent, more crazy? All Marty knows is that his has to be different. Certainly he can find inspiration in those around him: Billy may be psychopathic, not to mention Hans.
But, oh, don’t cross Woody Harrelson’s eccentric, violent mother-‘effer criminal/killer Charlie, who realizes that the not-so-bright Billy and Hans have dognapped his beloved Shih-tzu. So now Marty, Billy, and Hans have to go on the run, and this subplot becomes further complicated, and genuinely more dramatic, when something tragic happens to Hans. Already McDonaugh’s film, driven by the funniest/craziest/most heartfelt script this year, has some edge and bite, and you never know what direction it will take. (Let’s just say two prominent actors from a popular cable series appear, make Tarantino chit-chat, and are dispatched very quickly).
McDonaugh is operating here, speaking of Tarantino, on a post-modern crime narrative, where characters know they’re in a crime movie—some more so than others—and who question what the rules are as they go along. The film is really about storytelling on top of a silly but shamelessly entertaining story of dognappers and the hot-headed criminal out to get them.
At one point, Marty gets help in his research on psychopaths from none other than Tom Waits, whose character, Zachariah, was once a serial killer of serial killers as he and his woman went across the country tracking down and brutally murdering the infamous. Waits’ gravely voice and McDonaugh’s tense-comic dialog practically made me applaud in my seat.
If for nothing else, see this unapologetically outrageous film for the acting. Farrell continues his wonderful work from In Bruges, Rockwell’s smarmy-but-knowing delivery is perfect, and Christopher Walken isn’t just, excuse the phrase, Walkening here with the tough guy shtick or the current trend of Walken appearing as a weird pop-culture icon unto himself. He plays his character with full heart. If anything, he plays this guy more realistically than anyone else might—an eccentric “psychopath” who may understand what Marty’s Buddhist angle in his script is all about.
Oh, and Woody Harrelson kicks ass. Nothing else to add.