One almost gets the sense this mess was cast before it was written. Billed as a British comedy, “Seven Psychopaths” is by turns a drama, a comedy, a collection of character studies and is always an exercise in excess. It feels as if McDonagh decided he wanted to put the new king of weird, Sam Rockwell, in a film with the old king, Christopher Walken, before Walken was reduced to using a walker. Then, perhaps a day or two later, he decided to toss in a couple more weirdos, Tom Waits and Woody Harrelson, just to hedge his bets. Hey, with these guys, how can we miss? After a largely congratulatory binge, one might suppose, he suddenly realized he needed a script. Oh me oh my—what do these actors have in common? Oh, yeah, they make good psychos. We’ll call the movie “Four Psychos.” No, wait—how about “Seven Psychos,” that’s got a catchy ring to it.
The problem is that we’re running on empty here. For a while “Psychopaths” is a wacko crime thingy, you know, like Guy Ritchie? Oh, wait a minute—we need character interaction and a host of subplots to make that work. Shit. So then it becomes a collection of dream sequences and/or hypothetical film plots—you know, a movie about making a movie, kind of like François Truffaut or Federico Fellini? But for that to work we need to at least care about the characters, so it becomes a drama, forgeting about all the craziness and impossible synchronicity of the other parts. And by then it’s just a mess. But not to be outdone, McDonagh and company attempt to weave the disparate parts together by making one fantasy an alcoholic’s disjointed memory of something he heard, and another a plot device that the other character’s can recreate at will whenever things get slow. Oh, yeah, then there’s that bit with Tom Waits and his rabbit that doesn’t really fit anywhere… Well, we can make it right on the editing table…
The plot, or what passes for a plot, which interacts with the film on occasion runs like this. Colin Farrell, the handsome one, plays Marty, a film writer struggling with a drinking problem and a script—no actually, he’s only got a title. You guessed it, “Seven Psychopaths”—life imitating Art, or some unreasonable facsimile thereof. After insulting his gorgeous girlfriend, he’s forced to bunk with male friends Rockwell and Walken, who kidnap dogs (then return them days later to their wealthy owners for the reward offered) for a living. Meanwhile there is this dangerous psycho killing gangsters and leaving playing cards (Jack’o’Diamonds) next to the messy bodies. Is this real or one of Marty’s dreams/delusions/half developed plot lines? Who cares? Meanwhile the dynamic duo swipe a psycho gangster’s shih tzu—a one liner if ever there was one, that goes on and on and on like the Energizer Bunny—probably the inspiration for the Tom Waits character and his bunny, as he has very little to do with anything.
As the plot fits comfortably on an index card, most of the film is episodic, with genuinely half assed attempts to interconnect the parts. The women in the film are afterthoughts, girlfriends, victims, and a hooker in one of the fantasies, whose total screen time may amount to fifteen minutes. The presence of two of them on the film poster is misleading. The mystery of who wears the Jack’o'Diamonds mask lasts for about half the film and then goes bust, leaving us with one final mystery—why are the critic’s praising this pathetic mess?
To be fair, the actors do the best they can with what they’ve got—and they shine, like a sprinkling of sequins atop a bucket full of dung biscuits. The camera work is excellent. But not even Jim Jarmusch could salvage this mishmash of barely related components and reassemble them and whatever got left on the cutting room floor into any semblance of a film.
© Paul L. Bates 2012