At turns brutally dark, bitterly sad and enormously hilarious, Seven Psychopaths is a unique movie that is not for every taste but is a masterpiece for those who can plug in.
Following the efforts of Irish writer (and alcoholic) Marty (Colin Farrell) who is attempting to write a screenplay called the Seven Psychopaths that features psychopaths but no violence. His lack of progress is frustrating to his girlfriend Kaya (Abby Cornish) as is his constant alcohol consumption that leads him to act like an asshole. His best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) desperately wants to help write the script with him and tells him stories about different psychopaths he is aware of while running a lucrative dog stealing business with his troubled partner Hans (Christopher Walken) who is using his take from the scam to help pay for his wife’s cancer payments. Things get complicated when Billy kidnaps the dog of mid-level mob boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson) a ruthless killer who loves his shih tzu more than anything else in the world. Marty is inadvertently embroiled in the trouble and all manner of hell breaks loose.
Seven Psychopaths is a difficult movie to accurately summarize because the narrative is all over the place. You have flashbacks, storytelling moments, tangents and diversions that seem to be going in all directions at once. And that is before you get to the strangely meta self-awareness that it develops in the third act. These tangents also come with pretty wild tone shifts that keep the movie moving while keeping it strange.
These tangents and tone shifts might be annoying to some viewers who go in expecting a straightforward narrative but as crazy as it tends to be, Seven Psychopaths works very well and feels like a perfectly complete package when it is all said and done. It is like watching a perfectly honed juggling act that keeps a lot of things in the air at once and those things run the gamut from the tense and dangerous, to the sad and depressing, to the crazy and hilarious. All these things are in the air at once and the movie keeps them moving constantly. It is really a marvel to behold if you step back and look at it from a craft standpoint. The logistics involved in keeping these elements going are impressive.
Now I don’t want to overstate things here. The plot has a lot of moves to make but it isn’t labyrinthine and incomprehensible. It is just not a straight narrative and it keeps the audience on its toes. You aren’t jumping through mind bending hoops but you are given something that is more than it appears to be and has some tricks up its sleeve. Some of these tricks are telegraphed but they will delight none-the-less.
The writing really stands out in this movie above and beyond the direction and performances, which are both great, because it gives us an interesting story with interesting characters who behave in unexpected ways. The dialogue is snappy and clever but never pretentious or pandering. The balance of dark and depressing material with lines so funny that you miss follow ups for the laughter is very well done. That it can make me laugh as hard as it does right after shocking me and making sad enough to tear up is simply incredible.
As mentioned, the performances are great. Colin Farrell has a mostly thankless job as Marty given that he is kind of the straight man of the piece but he delivers with believability and sympathy. He isn’t the greatest guy in the world but you still root for him. It might be because next to everyone else he looks like a saint but Farrell pulls off the role with just the right touch. Sam Rockwell is fantastic as Billy who is funny and crazy and tends to steal every scene he is in. Christopher Walken plays an earnest and laid back character who reacts to things in an odd way and who you never feel on balance with. Likewise to Woody Harrelson who is a quirky villain who backs up his own odd behavior with cold hearted violence and depravity. Tom Waits brings a perfect balance of funny, sad and scary to Zachariah, a psychopath who shows up to answer an ad Billy places in the paper to meet fresh psychopaths and who has a predilection for bunnies.
Conclusion [9.0 out of 10]
Seven Psychopaths is not a movie for everyone and if you are turned off by sudden and sometimes brutal violence then you should stay away. Likewise if you aren’t fond of films that aren’t straight narratives. However, if those things don’t bother you then you should see this right away as it is the sort of movie people complain aren’t made anymore when they bitch about reboots, remakes and sequels. This is a fresh movie with interesting ideas, real emotions, well drawn characters and manages to find big laughs even amidst the heaviest of material. It deserves to be seen and appreciated so if you are into what it offers, check it out as soon as you can.