Los Angeles. Marty (Farrell), an Irish screenwriter, is struggling to put together a script called Seven Psychopaths. Billy (Rockwell), Marty’s friend, would like to help, and passes on anecdotes about real psychopaths, including gang boss Charlie (Harrelson) and dognapper Hans (Walken). When Billy steals Charlie’s beloved dog for Hans, Marty gets caught up in an escalating, violent situation.
Martin Mcdonagh made a lasting impression in 2008 with his debut feature, In Bruges — which has crept up many people’s favourite film lists, partly thanks to its quotability. Given that there’s been a four-year wait for a follow-up, and that Seven Psychopaths is about a blocked Irish screenwriter called Marty, there’s a possibility that McDonagh is flirting with autobiography here. Or maybe that’s as much a feint as anything else on offer.
In a set-up reminiscent of Adaptation and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, every film cliché is followed by a footnote. The funniest, most perceptive deconstructions of movie conventions come from a complete maniac. Billy (Sam Rockwell) notes that you can do anything on screen to a woman so long as you let a cute animal go unscathed.
Colin Farrell, so much better in indie dramas than product like the Fright Night or Total Recall remakes, plays it quizzical as the token non-psychopath, letting Rockwell seize the day as the hero’s collaborator/stalker/best friend. It’s the sort of role that would have a lock on a Best Supporting Actor nomination if only Christopher Walken, delivering the full-strength Walken for the first time in a while, weren’t in the same film. Walken gets a face-off moment, involving a cravat, with Woody Harrelson’s gangster that’s as good as his confrontation with Dennis Hopper in True Romance. There’s too much material here for it all to be digested, especially since the plot is basically a dance around the fact that there isn’t one… and the smart insights about lazy moviemaking still apply to this film as much as to the most average shoot ’em up.
Enormously entertaining, endlessly quotable, perfectly cast and packed full of the richest acting you’ll see from an ensemble cast all year, but the result is ever so slightly hollow.