The pairing of Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as gangsters with mismatched feelings at being stuck in aforesaid town provide some brilliantly scripted, darkly comic scenes. With Seven Psychopaths I expected more of the same. Whilst McDonagh does indeed show much magic, he doesn’t quite hit the heights of his feature-length debut. I’ll explain why, but first, the plot.
Out in sunny LA, Irish screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is trying to finish a script entitled Seven Psychopaths. His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) offers to help, telling him tales of real psychopaths, including dog-napper Hans (Christopher Walken) and gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Things escalate when Billy kidnaps Charlie’s dog for Hans to hold it for ransom.
McDonagh has an exceptional ear for dialogue – one of the hardest things to achieve as a writer – and uses it in highly inventive and quotable ways. Indeed, he’s been compared to Tarantino in that sense. Plus his efforts here in terms of dialogue are easily as good as In Bruges. Rockwell and Walken in particular, get some juicy lines to sink their teeth into ‘Dream sequences are for fags’ and ‘Gandhi was wrong. Just noone had the balls to say it’.
In terms of great performances Christopher Walken is the most enigmatic and menacing I’ve seen him in ages – perhaps his best since Catch Me If You Can ten years ago – that casual, nonchalant, off-beat delivery of lines, often followed with a psychotic, wolfish grin. Equally scary and funny. Rockwell takes centre-stage as the most wildly unhinged of the group, putting in a commendable performance, but still eclipsed by Walken at his finest.
Harrelson, too, is on top form, veering between menacing gangster and blubbing wreck whenever his dog is concerned. This leaves Farrell to play the straight role, admirably acting with those expansive eyebrows of his – Ronnie Corbett style.
Whilst Farrell does a fine job, it seems McDonagh has missed the chance to have him flex his comic muscles, as he did so effectively for In Bruges. I assume Sam Rockwell as the obvious funnyman is an easier sell for US audiences, maybe that’s my cynical take.
In some ways, whilst the script is smart and well written, it can come across as too clever for its own good. Almost revelling in self-parody and never missing the chance to have a dig at Hollywood. Whilst this is no bad thing, it can rather quickly get tiresome.
For example, both the film and Marty’s script have little room for female characters, indeed the actresses we do see are highly talented (Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe) but have next to nothing to do. Something mirrored in Marty’s script, which Hans remarks on when suggesting improvements. I’m not sure every time McDonagh becomes aware of a script issue he should resolve it by pointing it out – this might work once but it’s not an eternal ‘get out of jail free’ clause.
I like it. It’s got layers
Those points aside, overall it’s an entertaining, highly quotable, tremendously silly action film that revels in its own shortcomings, as well as being a great vehicle for Walken, Rockwell and Harrelson to flex their psychotic comedy chops. Another to add to your Friday night popcorn list!