Seven Psychopaths: Brilliant Craziness, Bloody Comic Violence

Photo courtesy of CBS Films

“Seven Psychopaths” is a movie so devilishly well-crafted that it’s nearly consumed by its own brilliance. The writer-director, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”), is a master of nasty laughs, and he keeps them coming … and coming. There’s barely time to catch your breath. If movies could pick their own flaws, though, this would be the one to go for.

Colin Farrell is Marty, a blocked writer who’s stuck on his latest screenplay. He has a title — “Seven Psychopaths” — but the rest won’t come. Marty’s just a regular guy; what does he know about lunatics? His best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), would like to help, but, being completely nuts, he’s a dubious source of counsel. Billy kidnaps dogs for a living, lifting them from a local park and turning them over to his partner, a coot named Hans (Christopher Walken), to return to their heartbroken owners for cash rewards (which Hans accepts with a carefully calibrated reluctance). Billy is determined to be of assistance with Marty’s screenplay, however, so he places a newspaper ad: “Calling All Psychopaths.” Unfortunately, this draws just one response, from a semiretired maniac named Zachariah (Tom Waits), who turns up in person with a pet rabbit.

Soon a more formidable nut job arrives on the scene. Billy and Hans unknowingly have kidnapped a Shih Tzu that belongs to a vicious gangster, named Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Charlie is both heartbroken and enraged. He’ll do anything to get his mini-mutt back — and he definitely will deal in a most unpleasant way with whoever took it. (Gabourey Sidibe, as the walker who lost the dog, is the first to feel the lash of his wrath.) Presumably, Billy and Hans could just give the dog back, but as Billy points out, with his customary bent logic, “that defeats the purpose of the kidnapping.”

Pretty soon, psychopaths abound, among them an avenging Quaker (Harry Dean Stanton) and a Vietnamese priest (Long Nguyen), who’s still incensed about the Vietnam War. (“It’s not over!” he tells a hooker in his hotel room.) There’s also a masked assassin called the Jack of Diamonds killer, who leaves playing cards at the scenes of his rub-outs. Billy continues putting in his two cents about Marty’s screenplay (maybe change the title to “Seven Lesbians”) and schooling his friend in the iron rules of crime cinema. (“You can’t let the animals die,” he says, “only the women” — and indeed, several women do.) We see that Marty is writing the picture we’re watching; we wonder where it’s going, and we wonder whether he knows. When he decides to try an artier approach to this bullets-and-broads tale (“No shooting, just people talking”), Billy fears he’s losing the thread: “What, are we making a French movie?”

It’s a little odd to find an artist of McDonagh’s distinctive talents channeling the manic gab of “Pulp Fiction” at this late date, although it has to be said it’s a style not far from his own. McDonagh is a virtuoso of digression, always up for a narrative side trip to explore the surreal back stories of his twisted characters. He revels in bloody comic violence, and the actors are entirely in tune with his savage sensibility. Rockwell’s Billy is a figure of soaring eccentricity, and Walken (who starred with Rockwell in McDonagh’s “A Behanding in Spokane” on Broadway) provides an ostinato of deadpan weirdness (and sometimes warmth) that keeps the story from winging off into the ether. As for Farrell, he’s perfectly cast as … us. He can’t believe all the craziness that keeps boiling up around him. The difference is that he’s complaining about it. We’re not.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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