You may very well walk into Seven Psychopaths expecting a dog-napping comedy from the writer of In Bruges. The story you may expect, however, is merely a sub-plot for the brunt of a film which follows writer Marty (Colin Farrell) and his struggle with writer’s block. Throughout the film we are introduced to the seven psychopaths in question, each as wacky and surreal as the next, and segments from Marty’s developing screenplay.
The film is strangely reminiscent of the mid-90s Woody Allen film Deconstructing Harry, in which Allen also plays a writer struggling with the same literary condition, who constantly leads the audience into nuggets of his past stories. Such is the nature of Seven Psychopaths, though we’re rarely given warning when this occurs, leaving one to ponder how much of the film was supposed to represent Marty’s script.
The issue with Seven Psychopaths is that it cannot be viewed without taking Irish director and writer Martin McDonagh’s first film, In Bruges, into consideration. It was a rare first film in that it was totally polished. There were so few annoying first-film gimmicks. It was, simply, a very smart, well-written comedy-thriller, and sometimes Psychopaths struggles to emerge from out of its shadow.
However, the film looks absolutely fantastic. McDonagh showed with In Bruges that he’s more than capable of photographing a city and making you want to move there the next day. He ramps it up a notch in Psychopaths, presenting the audience with a beautifully sparse L.A, long highways and empty deserts. It’s McDonagh by way of Jack Kerouac, and it really works.
The acting also rarely steps a foot out of place. While the clear writer surrogate Marty (sounds a tad similar to Martin, doesn’t it?) serves his purpose with a lot of worried looks, the emotional heart of the film is stolen by Christopher Walken as Hans. Walken has spent a good chunk of his career playing wacky bad guys and his part here is a wonderful subversion of that. It’s the best form he has been in since King Of New York.
McDonagh’s dialogue is, as ever, on top form. An opening conversation on whether the gangster John Dillinger was shot in the eye or not seems like it had as much care and attention paid to it as the climatic arguments and conversation. Not since Tarantino has an audience been treated to such eloquent gun-men.
To summarise Seven Psychpaths in a nutshell: you’ll go because you enjoyed In Bruges, and you’ll stay because Christopher Walken is back to his best.