By Ed Symkus
It’s so much easier, so simple to know what you’re gonna get, when the title says it all. Cases in point: Snakes on a Plane and Hobo with a Shotgun. And now we have another one, a movie that’s exactly about what the title blatantly suggests.
What you don’t get from the title is that, aside from that mention of its main characters and the obvious accompanying mayhem, the movie is also smartly written and quite funny. I feel comfortable in labeling it a comedy, much like its hitman-centric predecessor In Bruges, playwright McDonagh’s first film which, likes this one, starred Colin Farrell.
Here he plays Marty, a struggling, often drunk writer who has what he believes is a great idea for a screenplay, which he’s titled Seven Psychopaths, even before he starts writing it. The catch is that he’s a pacifist, but his script is loaded with violence. The set-up is that we’re watching a movie about a movie, or at least about the plan to create a movie. It’s kind of neat that the film opens with some folks hanging out by the Hollywood sign.
Marty, of course, isn’t alone. He’s accompanied by plenty of pals and acquaintances and an outsider or two, all of which would make fine models for any psychopaths he’s going to write about.
There’s Billy (Sam Rockwell), a struggling actor who pays the rent by dognapping pooches in the park, then turning them over to Hans (Christopher Walken), who immediately returns the pets to worried owners who have posted rewards. The film doesn’t go into the details of how the money is split up.
There’s Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a vicious hood whose cute little Shih Tzu Bonny is being walked in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Can you just feel the film’s strands pulling together?
There’s bunny-loving Zachariah (Tom Waits) who, for reasons that are eventually explained in a detailed back story, is probably the most dangerous character in the cast. The wonderfully warped storyline has Zachariah answering a newspaper ad that calls for psychopaths who think their real-life story might make good fodder for a film script.
And let’s not forget the ruthless, red-hooded mystery person who becomes known as the Jack of Diamonds Killer. Truth be told, that character is difficult to forget, as many appearances are made, always when least expected.
That’s part of the film’s demented sense of humor. Another involves the unexplained business about Zachariah’s penchant for hanging out with rabbits. Yet another is the dialogue. In a bit of gentle, never-mean, racist profiling, Marty, proud to call himself Irish, is confronted with his “Irish” drinking problem. “I don’t have a drinking problem,” he argues. “I just like drinking.”
The words are delivered by Farrell with perfect comic timing, and are aided by the way he uses his big dark eyes and overly bushy eyebrows for comic effect.
He’s not the only one making great use of acting gifts. Waits knows exactly what to do with his great gravelly voice to get someone interested in hearing his Zachariah tell a story. Rockwell plays most of his part with a mischievous look on his face, and is given the opportunity to go completely overboard in the shameless acting department during a nighttime cemetery scene. Harrelson is far more threatening when he speaks softly, almost liltingly, than when he raises his decibel levels in anger.
As separate plot strains grow closer together, bringing the title characters closer within them, the script takes time to aim a couple of sharp barbs at both the religious right and Fox News, then gives a positive shout out to Noam Chomsky.
The film looks great, from beginning to end, especially when the action settles down to being played out in Joshua Tree National Park. You might want to go back and check out In Bruges before seeing this one. That, too, is a terrific film, and it’ll give you an idea of how writer-director Martin McDonagh likes to match up the very funny with the very bloody.