Sunday, October 21, 2012

Seven Psychopaths

The nutty, energetically clever Seven Psychopaths serves as Martin McDonagh's follow-up to his Oscar-nominated crime comedy-thriller In Bruges.  What's remarkable is that the English bloke, a renowned playwright and previous Oscar winner for his short film, Six Shooter (2006), is his incredible gift for chatter.  The man has a natural gift for that of gab, and Seven Psychopaths-- likely one of the best Pulp Fiction-riffs ever (saying much, since the days of ripping that off are long gone)-- can attune that gift, an atypically ironic, alpha male, witty one into any sort of shape.  The ensemble cast of Seven Psychopaths makes that case alone.  A filmmaker who can give the best sprouts of lines to such a diverse cast like Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson deserves praise in-it-of-itself.  That his dialogue is spread out so well, that many of the best lines are delivered by the day players and the characters actors marks McDonagh the violent prig version of Preston Sturges.  Moreso that Seven Psychopaths is a twisty, very Los Angeles film noir, rotted in great meta composition and silly nods that feel they could topple after every beat yet never wavers in seething, smugly charm, can't be seen as anything more than a huge accomplishment.

We follow a Hollywood tale, at first as least, as Marty (Farrell) is a screenwriter, trying to thaw through his latest, a demented little piece of fiction about psycho-killer people.  With an unbridled conviction to make a violent piece of pulp, that's ultimately about love, with a heaven and hell connectivity underlined, Marty's having a bit of trouble.  Not just because his film, also called "Seven Psychopaths" reads too disparate and random to work, but also because Marty's quite an alcoholic.  His bestie, Sam, played with a flaky charm by Sam Rockwell, is a wannabe actor\dog-napper wants to help.  He's also a loon, working in the dog-napping trade with a bigger loon named Hans (Christopher Walken), whose dark past warps from past to future and into Marty's script.  The trouble starts when Sam steals the wrong dog-- a beloved Shih Tzu of a deranged gangster (played by Woody Harrelson.)  The meta-madness and gleefully violent fun of Seven Psychopaths begins as it follows these characters and their eventual quests, making pit stops along the way to ruminate, not just McDonagh's great dialogue, but working both and against how Hollywood noirs are suppose to behave, leaving an audience in shreds.  The opening box office numbers for Seven Psychopaths were less than auspicious, but mind that little, as there's much hope in the future, as this destined-for-cult-hood film should find itself a nifty side future as a midnight movie choice for generations-- this film demands to seen with a crowd, who can be laugh, screen, be disgusted and wet their pants at the pleasures of it's nifty structure.

Through Marty's script, we chart seven psychopaths-- one of which is an original creation, one of which is a random follower, inconceivably met along the way (and played with bumbling charm and off-kilter joy by Tom Waits); the others are guys (and girls) met along the road.  The entwining of reality versus fiction versus meta-madness never confuses but delights just in the gleeful feeling of, what the hell is gonna come next, loosey-goosey feel of the film.  So much so that the first sequence of the film-- a funny aside about people being shot in the eyes-- is just is a mere whimsical aside for the gory delight set ahead.  Farrell, as he did in In Bruges feels strongly attuned to McDonagh's way-- the non-good guy, not quite anti-hero hero of his tale.  He's a charming and convincing cad, but has his own off-kilter modes that jell well with Seven Psychopaths off-kilter modes.  The rest of cast sizzles on their own idiosyncratic charms; with actors as nutty as Rockwell, Walken and Harrelson, McDonagh seemingly relishes giving them wacky jewels to play, plot and go to town with.  They do, and with aplomb.  If this wacky film has any semblance of a beating heart to match it's clever rat-a-tat shoot 'em up sprees, it come from Walken who provides it.

Interesting, McDonagh inverts the rules of the noir, without especially redefining them.  Case in point is his characterizations of female characters.  In what may be staged as misogynistic or bizarrely feminist, whatever the viewpoint, he riffs that none of ladies are given a three dimensional part-- they're either sex kitten or bitch, but comments on it authoritatively enough that can read as either offensive or affectionate, or both at once.  Abbie Cornish plays Marty's irritated girlfriend, while Olga Kurylenko counterpoints as a scheming fatale.  There's another slice where Seven Psychopaths ports its tale into an entirely different direction, diverting its audience that its quest for violence is gone, replaced by a more thoughtful tune of remorse filled with lots of talking.  That McDonagh drifts his audience into thinking that's actually the outcome is only a tease for the real finale and clear sense of not just his gifts as scribe, but as a filmmaker, finely tuned in the art of a great tease.

What's left is a film, one of which has multiple endings, nearly exceeding The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in its journey to find an actual conclusion, that's a great piece of pulpy fiction.  What's missing is the substance.  Hopefully McDonagh will provide that with feature number three.  B+

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