Seven Psychopaths is a film too clever and too long for its own good. It addresses and draws attention to all of its flaws, while also making half-hearted excuses for them. It’s also one hilarious movie, directed and written by a really funny man, Martin McDonagh, of In Bruges fame. I come away from a movie like this with very mixed feelings. On one hand, I did have a good time. On the other, the film doesn’t exactly work all the way, and it definitely thinks too highly of itself.
The overarching plot involves an alcoholic screenwriter, Martin (Colin Farrell), who is currently writing a screenplay called “Seven Psychopaths.” He’s very far along, having the title and nothing more. His friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), tries to inspire him, get him to quit drinking, and is an all around good guy. However, Billy works as a dognapper, working under a man named Hans (Christopher Walken). Things go wrong when Billy steals the dog of a psychopath, Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who loves his dog more than anyone or anything else in his life. They now have a madman on the loose, one who is determined to get his dog back and punish those who took it.
That short description of the plot is not at all helpful in determining what Seven Psychopaths is about, or even what happens once it begins to play. There are so many other things — some real, some fantasy, but all shown to us on-screen — that we begin to question exactly what has happened, what is going to happen, who everyone is, and why they are how they are. It’s actually almost confusing, at times, simply because there’s so much information to take in at any one time. Too much is better than not enough, though, so I’d take this problem over being bored any day.
Because Martin is writing a script called “Seven Psychopaths,” and because he talks about the screenwriting process and movies in general, some expectations come about. For instance, when a character says that his movie will start like a typical movie and then subvert its genre and just have its characters drive to the desert and sit around and talk, we expect that the film we’re watching will also take that route.
In some respect, that’s correct. They do drive to the desert and sit around and talk for a while. They fantasize shootouts and other potential scenes for Martin’s screenplay, while also drawing attention to some of its faults. The lack of engaging female characters is the main one that I remember. This is also a problem with McDonaugh’s film, which he mentions within the film, and then never rectifies. The question I’m left with: “Is this enough?”
Is it okay to mention flaws in your own product — getting a laugh or two in the process — and then never even attempt to solve it. All of the female roles are, in fact, underwritten. Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko are both featured on the poster, but the former has three or four scenes, while Kurylenko has just one. After the lack of female roles is mentioned, the excuse given is “life sucks,” and then that’s the end of it. The film isn’t good enough to overcome its faults; it can just bring them to your attention for a laugh.
That is something that Seven Psychopaths does very well. If all you’re looking for is a very funny comedy, it will do the trick. I’m not sure if more than a scene went by without a bunch of wit being thrown at us. The opening scene is definitely Tarantino-esque, and while that trend doesn’t continue, it sets you up well for what you’re about to see. It is a highly enjoyable comedy, and if you liked In Bruges, you’re going to like this one, too.
It doesn’t quite justify its running time, however, going on for about twenty minutes too long, despite never really feeling complete. It ends — and then there’s a mid-credit scene after only a couple of the title cards roll — but it felt disappointing after it concluded, as if it needed something more to happen. Perhaps it’s because, after all of the characters in the film comment on how they think it should end, our expectations are built up a point which cannot be matched. We need the real ending to top everything that is mentioned, and Seven Psychopaths simply cannot deliver.
What Seven Psychopaths does have is a great cast, all of whom work perfectly in their roles. They have great chemistry with each other, and even though they all have problems — most of them are murderers, for example — their easygoing nature and atypical movie character status allows us to like them and want to spend more time with them. Sam Rockwell is the standout here, as he often is, and really holds everyone together. If a gag isn’t working, he makes it work simply by opening his mouth.
Seven Psychopaths is a success because it’s hilarious. That’s all that’s necessary in a comedy, after all. But I saw the potential genius of this type of film. It draws attention to its flaws, and if it could have subverted those along with our expectations instead of bringing them up for a quick laugh, it would have been a grand film. It’s still a lot of fun, and if you’re a fan of any of the male actors — not the females, because none of them have large parts — you’ll definitely want to check it out.