Seven Psychopaths is a 2012 British crime comedy written, co-produced, and directed by Martin McDonagh.
Marty Faranan (Collin Farrell), a drinking writer of Irish descent (when you are Irish you have alcoholism in your genes, right?), dreams of finishing his screenplay, Seven Psychopaths. His problem is that you can’t finish what you haven’t started yet – he has just a good title and not a shred of idea what to do with it next. Marty’s best friend, Billy Bickle, is an unemployed, misogynist actor (played by Sam Rockwell; his last name is the same as the name of the hero of Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”, I leave his role in the movie for you to puzzle out). In-between roles Billy makes a living by kidnapping dogs and collecting the owners’ cash rewards for their safe return. His partner-in-crime is Hans Kieslowski – an inconspicuous and very religious man of Polish origin (when you are a Pole you have religion in your genes…but Hans? Honestly, HANS? No Pole would be called that, believe me. And Keslowski is another movie-related name of a famous Polish director but whatever). His wife, Myra, has a cancer. Hans hasn’t worked for 20 years and now is fit just for a job in the government or the unemployment allowance, that’s why he finds the dog business so necessary. Apart from that he doesn’t hurt any animal, does he?
Billy wants to help Marty with his script; he suggests he use the “Jack of Diamonds” killer, perpetrator of a recent double murder, as one of the seven “psychopaths”. Inspired, Marty writes a story for another psychopath, the “Quaker”, who stalks his daughter’s killer for decades, driving him to suicide and ultimately cutting his own throat to follow him even to hell. Then, seeing the positive results of Billy’s influence, he officially asks his friend to help him. Happy Billy places an ad in a local newspaper, calling all psychopaths who want to share their story and feature in a script. A stroke of genius? Not really.
Meanwhile Billy and Hans steal the next dog, a lovely Shih Tzu called Bonny. They are unaware that it is the beloved pet of nobody else but Charlie Costello, an unpredictable and violent gangster. Charlie’s thugs discover Hans’s connection to the kidnapping. At a warehouse, they threaten to kill Marty and Hans unless they reveal Bonny’s location, but the Jack of Diamonds killer arrives in the last possible moment and shoots the thugs. Still inconsolable Charlie traces Myra to the cancer ward, killing her when she refuses to tell him the whereabouts of his dog. What Hans and Billy are going to do next? Something violent? Something transcendental? Something funny? All of those together? None of above?
The Seventh Seal. Seven Samurai. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Magnificent Seven. Seven. Seven Years in Tibet. Six Days, Seven Nights. As you see the directors simply love that number, no matter the genre. When I saw the next title with it, Seven Psychopaths, I simply had to watch it, especially that I had an opportunity to do so during the New Year’s Eve, in my humble and totally biased opinion one of the worst times of the year. I admit I hesitated a bit but, as soon as I found out that the movie features a Shih-Tzu dog I was sold; I though that I could even suffer through another performance by Collin Farrell (I am not a fan) if it also meant watching a cute representative of one of my favourite breeds.
Already the opening sequence proved to be a like an explosion of a circus balloon full of helium and blood. Two guys are waiting for a girl. They want to kill her and, on the basis of their conversation you can assume they are professional hit men, hired by a mobster. All of a sudden their professionalism is questioned in the most profound way because they, standing in the middle of well-lit, open space, allow a man in a mask to walk right up and shoot them in the head, dropping casually two jacks of diamonds on their dead bodies. Quentin Tarantino parody anyone? Him and more, of course: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
In fact every film cliché is followed here by a footnote. The funniest, most perceptive deconstructions of movie conventions come from the biggest maniac around, Billy Bickle, who e.g. notes that you can do anything on screen to a woman so long as you let a cute animal (or, for lack of those, a child) go unscathed – and isn’t he perfectly right? The director proves his point swiftly: Bonny the Shih Tzu, giving the film countless opportunities to employ the words “Shih Tzu,” in which the “t” is sounded, is carried lovingly through the shootings and standouts and not one long, silky hair falls off of his lovely back; two supporting female characters, however, not only speak just to other males, they also end in a bloody mess within 15 minutes after their introduction even if one of them is cancer-stricken and black.
The film’s climax takes place in the archetypal desert hills of a B-Western, where Marty, Billy and Hans find themselves hiding out from the relentless Charlie, them and the Shih Tzu of course. The logic of this action, which circles around the question of who can be trusted by whom, and for whose reasons, is sort of an elaboration of the elegant geometry in the Mexican Standoff in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
All of the actors are good, and Collin Farrell wisely allowed the showier performances to circle around him. To my amazement he was so much better in the indie drama than in any big Hollywood production like the Fright Night or Total Recall remakes.
Overall there’s too much material here for it all to be digested, especially since the plot is basically a dance around the fact that there isn’t one… and the smart insights about lazy moviemaking still apply to this film as much as to the most average shoot ’em up. Still it kind of was the point, right?
I admit it: the movie was enormously entertaining, endlessly quotable, perfectly cast and packed full of the richest acting you’ll see from an ensemble cast all year. Still the result was ever so slightly hollow, jesting but never presenting any solutions, restricted by the same conventions it was supposed to laugh off. I also have to warn you that, in order to enjoy Seven Psychopaths you have to be in a certain state of mind – similar to that which made you tolerate all those insane Tarantino plots and even laugh. A bit psychopathic, to tell you the truth.