Feature: Seven Psychopaths: the Best Film Since Pulp Fiction
Two months ago, when I first heard that Martin McDonagh was coming out with a new film, two of my favorite movies in the past ten years came to mind: In Bruges and Brothers Bloom. Secondly, when I found out that Christopher Walken was starring in it (wearing a cravat nonetheless), coupled with the fact that the title of this new film is ‘Seven Psychopaths,’ thoughts of Pulp Fiction and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels floated into my mind.
Before diving into how much I enjoyed Seven Psychopaths on multiple levels, I must disclaim that I recognize that generally, high expectations going into a movie yield disappointment walking out of said movie. For this reason, because I was so utterly enthralled with just about everything about this movie coming out of it, makes it even more impressive. So my point is, do not be put off by my positive review of Seven Psychopaths by thinking that I will ruin your viewing experience by giving you unnecessarily high expectations; don’t worry, if you enjoy Martin McDonagh and/or Pulp Fiction and/or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels you will walk out of this movie satisfied.
Within the first five minutes of Seven Psychopaths I knew that this was not a movie that had been done before, at least not like this. The film opens on two sleazy, greasy mobsters with vaguely Italian accents played by Michael Pitt [Boardwalk Empire] and Michael Stuhlbarg [A Serious Man] talking about their assignment to “kill a chick,” a conversation that then steers away towards one on the details of “stabbing people in the eyeball,” the sort of disturbing conversation that is so surprising one can only laugh, a trademark element of Quentin Tarantino’s films. This opening scene is then quickly ended upon a bout of violence (however not the one you could ever see coming) so disturbing, gory, and unexpected that the entire theater filled with laughter but abruptly became silent as the audience realized that violence shouldn’t be funny.
Now, for those of you die-hard Tarantino fans who would be appalled at another director ‘stealing’ Tarantino’s signature bad-guy banter and disturbingly hilarious scenes of violence, all I can say in McDonagh’s defense is that his ‘borrowing’ of Tarantino’s style is done tastefully and minimally as a necessity to the integrity of the innovation and genius of his film.
After the first scene, McDonagh introduces the protagonist Marty, played by Colin Farrell; a struggling screenplay writer with alcohol problems, girlfriend issues, and a severe case of writer’s block. The plot is quickly kicked off when his friend Billy, played by Sam Rockwell, tells Marty about a psychopath who kills “mid to higher level members of the Los Angeles Italian gangs… or the Yakuza.” Marty then decides to write a movie about psychopaths. However, he does not want his screenplay to be a stereotypical blood-bath slasher film: he wants it to be about psychopaths with heart.
Throughout the rest of the film, McDonagh adds an extra layer of depth by repeatedly indirectly commenting on the film itself by means of the characters engaging in banter and presenting possibilities as to how their own adventures will play out and how Marty’s screenplay should unfold.
In the meantime, while Marty is trying to write his screenplay, he gets whisked up in a debacle involving Billy and his co-worker Hans (played by Christopher Walken). Billy and Hans are con artist who specialize in stealing dogs and returning them for a ransom. However, they accidentaly steal a major criminal’s Shih Tzu (the criminal is named Charlie and is played by Woody Harrelson). Suddenly bloodthirsty criminals are after Marty, Billy, and Hans. All the while, Marty is still contemplating his screenplay.
McDonagh really seals the deal in terms of the masterful composition of his film through his manner of introducing the ‘psychopaths,’ some of whom are fictional figments of Marty’s imagination and others who are not quite so. McDonagh presents the ‘psychopaths’ Marty considers for his screenplay by means of vignettes that interject in Marty’s debacle regarding the bloodthirsty Shih Tzu owner. These vignettes turn out to be incredibly relevant to Marty’s state of mind and the situation he has gotten into with Billy and Hans.
If you are skeptical about the value that vignettes about psychopaths could have in terms of the film aside from being perversely gory, think again because these psychopaths are not your run-of-the-mill wack-o’s:
Psycho no. 1: A masked man with an affinity for cards
Psycho no. 2: A gangster who loves his Shih Tzu
Psycho no. 3: A Quaker with a thirst for vengeance
Psycho no. 4: A Vietnamese priest who loves prostitutes and hates America
Psycho no. 5: A bloodthirsty killer with a rabbit
Psycho no. 6: A bloodthirsty killer who hangs out with a bloodthirsty killer with a rabbit
Psycho no. 7: Well… you’ll just have to see for yourself.
Now, I believe that it takes an incredible amount of skill and talent on McDonagh’s part to make this eccentric (to say the least) group of psychopaths, relevant to a story about a struggling writer and his friends, and on top of it all use them to add a layer of sympathy and heart to the film.
I believe that anybody who enjoys innovative, creative, and original film has an obligation to see Seven Psychopaths. I went into this movie expecting something to the effect of Pulp Fiction and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (which for me is some of the highest praise a movie could hope to get in terms of expectations) and walked out realizing that it was so much more. However, if you enjoy romantic comedies, excessive special effects, are turned off by disturbing violence (no matter how hilarious it may be), or take offense to cravats, then Taken 2 and Pitch Perfect are just around the corner.