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Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 12:51 pm

More than meets the eye in Psychopaths


There is far more at play in Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths than witnessing acts of gruesome violence committed by a collection of certifiable nuts. Well, there is that but the subtext that McDonagh, who also wrote the screenplay, weaves throughout does an interesting job of deconstructing the very genre the film belongs to. Having written and directed the mini masterpiece In Bruges (if you haven’t seen this, go rent it now!), a mean-spirited, sardonic gem about the divided loyalties of two hit men (Colin Ferrell and Brendan Gleeson) and their psychotic boss (Ralph Fiennes), the filmmaker returns to the world of hard-boiled lowlifes with shattered morals and questionable social skills but with a far different agenda. Psychopaths is concerned with exploring the very nature of crime films and undercutting the genre conventions at every turn.

Farrell is on board once more as Marty, a screenwriter who needs to deliver a screenplay, which he calls “Seven Psychopaths,” to his agent as quickly as possible. Problem is, he hasn’t started it yet, suffering from a debilitating case of writer’s block that his off-kilter acting buddy Billy (scene-stealer Sam Rockwell) is trying to help him with, when he’s not kidnapping dogs. His partner in this nefarious but harmless scam is Hans (Christopher Walken), who ends up returning the pups to their owners after a couple of days in order to collect any rewards that might be offered. Unfortunately, Billy’s latest dognapping is that of a Shih Tzu belonging to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a low-level mobster who has an adversely intense affection for his pet. His efforts to find his dog bring about a garden variety of mayhem as Marty, Billy and Hans try to stay one step ahead of him, all the while bouncing ideas for the screenplay off one another.

It is no accident that Farrell’s character is the same as McDonagh’s. He is the director’s surrogate here, lodging complaints toward the film industry and audience expectations through his big screen alter ego. One of the reasons Marty is stuck is that he doesn’t want to write just another mindless action film filled with gratuitous violence. As he says early on, he wants to write about “love and peace” and envisions one of his psychopaths as a Buddhist monk pacifist. Good luck getting that produced! And yet as the three principals continue to work on the screenplay, they do find a way to take Marty’s ideas and turn them into a plausible story, albeit one that will never sell though Marty’s sense of self-worth will remain in tact.

Perhaps the cleverest aspect of the film is that it plays against our expectations as well, setting up sequences we have seen countless times in numerous movies like this, only to pull the rug out from under us and send us on a different narrative track. The spirit of these contradictions is embodied by Rockwell whose Billy is a split personality, a harmless, lovable schmuck one minute and a cruel, heartless killer the next. He embodies the schizoid nature of the movie, and he walks away with every scene he’s in. The manic energy he displays propels the story from one unpredictable moment to the next.

Seven Psychopaths can be enjoyed simply for its twists and turns as well as its imaginatively rendered action sequences. But for those who want to dig a bit, they will be treated to a postmodern take on the state of modern films as well as a commentary on the toll that churning out and watching a constant flow of cinematic dreck has on those who write it or consume it. Funny and suffused with a brand of dark irony that will appeal to those with the most twisted sense of humor, McDonagh’s movie will surely find a loyal cult audience who will appreciate its depth as well as the filmmaker’s efforts to shoot straight.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@used116.org.

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