Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Genre: Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: October 12th, 2012 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Martin McDonagh Actors: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Harry Dean Stanton, Zeljko Ivanek, Tom Waits, Olga Kurylenko




t the Lake Hollywood reservoir, mafia men Larry (Michael Pitt) and Tommy (Michael Stuhlbarg) linger on a bridge, overlooking a serene view of water and greenery. But their discussion is all about death: stabbings in the ear, gunshots to the eyeball, Cuban torture methods, and their mission at hand – which is to murder a woman. Their attention is so focused on their conversation and awaiting their target that they don’t see the assassin walking right up to them. This is psychopath #1, and the masked killer drops a playing card – the jack of diamonds – on the bodies after the deed is done.

Meanwhile, Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Marty (Colin Farrell) plot their next dognapping victim: a gray basset hound. It’s part of a scam run with the elderly Hans (Christopher Walken), who then takes the pet back to its owner for a tidy reward. When the trio isn’t plotting new swindles, Hans visits his wife in the cancer ward; sometime actor Billy can’t seem to find anything productive to do; and Marty, regularly comforted by alcohol, toils over a screenplay, entitled “Seven Psychopaths.” But he’s having difficulty coming up with the seven titular characters – and what type of psychopaths they should be. In fact, he ultimately hopes that his script will focus on love and life-affirming qualities rather than mania. The dognappers have bigger problems to contend with, however, when they swipe Bonnie, a shih tzu that belongs to gangster Charles Costello (Woody Harrelson) – a madman willing to slaughter anyone who wrongs him, even for the slightest offense.

The film is immediately dark and violent. But, as with all of writer/director Martin McDonagh’s pictures, there’s a distinct hilarity drifting about the actions, as if humor can be pried from even the most horrendous exploits. In his worlds, anyway, it certainly can be (along with a sensational soundtrack). In another smart turn, Marty’s script comes to life in several scenes, demonstrating that life imitates art; or, rather, that art imitates life (which is, of course, fictional here). Like in “Get Shorty” or “Barton Fink” or “Nocturnal Animals,” fantasy tends to blend with the reality of the personas (through a film within a film gimmick), adding additional layers of complexity and contrast and pitch-black wittiness.

What doesn’t work as well in the context of the film is the general behavior of the characters. Billy and Hans don’t take life-threatening scenarios seriously enough, even though Marty’s responses go in the completely opposite direction, partly for a laugh and partly for the basic humanity of it (such as when he vomits after a thug’s brains are splattered across his face). Even with a few revelations later on, the abundance of psychopathic activities rarely seems to fit believably among the lead characters. And the consequences soon grow to an irreparably tragic degree, while the collateral damage is laden with a high level of cruelty. McDonagh’s infatuation with chaos and destruction routinely goes to such extremes that it’s challenging to appreciate the bits of comedy that aim to even everything out.

Toward the end, as the film attempts to redefine its own structure and surprise audiences with reality-skewing spontaneity, it meanders a touch too much. In its efforts to be thought-provoking and unique, it nearly derails itself by transforming into something less than a whole, sensible project. And, perhaps the most interesting aspect – the way in which the main characters met up – goes entirely unexplained. Somewhere in this messy, bloody, mixed-up tale of carnage is a clever little story; but it’s buried fairly deep in rather depressing mayhem and disorder.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10