Sony // 2012 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 4th, 2013
They won't take any Shih Tzu.
"You didn't think I was what? Serious? You think I'm not serious just because I carry a rabbit?"
Marty (Colin Farrell, Minority Report) is a Hollywood screenwriter currently attempting to write a movie called Seven Psychopaths. Of course, he hasn't yet figured out how the movie is going to end, nor how to start it, nor who exactly the psychopathic characters at its core are supposed to be, but he hopes that it will all come to him eventually. In the meantime, Marty spends some time hanging out with his cheerfully obnoxious pal Billy (Sam Rockwell, Moon), who is more than eager to provide Marty with ideas for his movie.
Billy makes a living by kidnapping dogs with his friend Hans (Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter) and then returning the dogs to their owners for a reward. It's a shady business, but it pays the bills and nobody gets hurt. Unfortunately, things take a nasty turn when Billy and Hans accidentally kidnap the Shih Tzu of a savage gangster (Woody Harrelson, Natural Born Killers). Soon, poor Marty accidentally gets mixed up in this criminal scheme and quickly discovers that his life may be in danger. Can Marty, Billy and Hans figure out a way to return the Shih Tzu without getting caught by the police or the thugs they've crossed?
Playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh has been subjected to some of the most unfortunate marketing campaigns of recent years. His foul-mouthed, funny, astonishingly moving In Bruges was arguably the finest film of 2008, but the trailers made it look like yet another middling Tarantino riff. His ambitious, entertaining Seven Psychopaths is another terrific effort (if not quite as strong as his first flick), but the trailers once again managed to make it look rather tiresome. As such, it's no surprise that the film fizzled out at the box office, but I have high hopes that Seven Psychopaths will find its audience on home video once people actually get a chance to see and realize what a treat it is.
In some ways, the film feels very much like McDonagh's Adaptation. It's a movie called Seven Psychopaths written by an Irish screenwriter named Martin about an Irish screenwriter named Martin attempting to write a movie called Seven Psychopaths. It is a film primarily concerned with examining itself, and the whole thing might have felt tediously self-indulgent if it weren't so consistently entertaining. I won't spoil the manner in which the complicated plot unfolds, other than telling you that the movie starts folding in on itself in compelling ways on multiple occasions. It's a movie that spends a good deal of time pondering the meaning of its own existence even as it thoroughly justifies that existence in a variety of ways. Will some find the film's fretful self-analysis annoying and wish that everyone would just get to shooting each other? Sure. For my money, McDonagh's detour-filled route is much more enjoyable.
Much like In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths is often a demonstration of just how thin the line between comedy and tragedy can be. Even the funniest of moments sometimes carry an undercurrent of deep despair, and some of the film's most startlingly somber scenes nonetheless contain moments of bracing laughter. This balance is best exemplified in the performance of Christopher Walken, who treats us to quite of a few of those wonderfully loopy Walken moments but who also turns out to be the movie's moral center. The scene in which Walken faces off with an angry killer played by Zeljko Ivanek (Damages)? Comedy gold. The tender relationship he shares with his bed-ridden wife (Linda Bright Clay, Original Gangstas)? Truly affecting. It's Walken's best work since Catch Me If You Can and one of the finest performances of 2012.
The rest of the cast is in fine form, too. Colin Farrell is a sturdy lead, demonstrating a level of rumpled charm that seems to disappear when he's tossed in a high-profile flick like Total Recall. He's an enjoyably distressed straight man. Sam Rockwell scores a lot of laughs as the simple-minded Billy, and would easily steal every scene he appears in if he weren't acting opposite Walken so often. Woody Harrelson delivers the sort of enjoyable loon he tends to play rather frequently, and Tom Waits (Down By Law) is amusing as a killer with an affection for rabbits. Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) and Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man) make memorable cameo appearances.
Seven Psychopaths (Blu-ray) receives a superb 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that once again demonstrates that the folks at Sony really know what they're doing in this department. The image is rich and vibrant, benefiting from genuinely remarkable detail and depth. Facial detail is some of the finest I've seen, capturing every little nuance of the expressive visages the film offers. The movie leans heavily on bright, sun-baked colors and the transfer really gives things a lot of pop. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track has some real kick when the film requires it, but the film doesn't really require it too often. For the most part, this is a conversation-driven movie. However, the sound design work is strong and the track is fairly immersive. The fine score by Carter Burwell achingly underlines some of the film's more melancholy elements and adds some much-appreciated weight to certain sequences. Sadly, the supplemental package is largely comprised of very short featurettes: "Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths" (2 minutes), "Colin Farrell is Marty" (1 minute), "Woody Harrelson is Charlie" (1 minute), "Crazy Locations" (2 minutes), "Seven Psychocats" (2 minutes) and "Layers" (1 minute). You also get a digital copy. Really wish we had a McDonagh commentary on this one.
The cast contains three gifted actresses (Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe and Olga Kurylenko), but the film wastes every single one of them. Is the film commenting on how Hollywood tends to treat female characters? Yes, it is. However, unlike some of the film's other elements of self-aware commentary, there's not enough substance to really justify this one. In an interview with The A.V. Club, McDonagh himself admitted as much: "I think this is the most I'll ever do that. And you can't get away with it more than once, even if you can get away with it this time. One of the female characters, Abbie [Cornish's] part has more on the page, and we got a lot more of her in a couple of scenes that just slowed down the film somehow, or weren't what the film was about. So it didn't used to be as thinly-written a part as it turned out to be."
Early in the film, Marty wearily admits that he's struggling to turn his screenplay into something original. "I don't want it to be one more film about guys with guns in their hands," he sighs. "I want it...overall...to be about love...peace. But it still has to be about these seven psychopaths." That struggle is captured admirably in Seven Psychopaths, as McDonagh explores the outer limits of the genre he's working in with giddy humor and considerable tenderness. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Digital Copy