Toward the end of Seven Psychopaths, Christopher Walken asks Colin Farrell about his character’s fascination with psychopaths, and adds, “They get kind of tiresome, don’t they?” Yes, they do, and this wildly uneven film is evidence of that. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, one of the best playwrights in theater today, Seven Psychopaths shows that McDonagh has yet to control his own indulgences, and it’s a step down from his much better In Bruges.
Farrell plays an Irish screenwriter who has a case of writer’s block. He has a title–Seven Psychopaths–but that’s it. His friend, Sam Rockwell, gives him ideas to help him out, including telling a story about a man who stalks the killer of his daughter. Farrell, who wants to write about a serial killer who is peaceful (he lights upon “The Quaker Psycopath”) and we see the fully realized segment, complete with Harry Dean Stanton in black coat and hat.
Meanwhile Rockwell is running a scam with his pal, Walken, in which they kidnap dogs and then return them for the reward money. They make a mistake in snatching the shih tzu of a mobster (yes, he’s a psychopath) played by Woody Harrelson. When Harrelson’s henchmen track Walken down, they are killed by a masked gunman who kills crooks, leaving Jack of Diamonds as his calling card.
Okay, where did McDonagh go wrong? Well, there’s way too much going on here, for starters. In addition to this storyline, there’s also a thread about a serial killer, Tom Waits, who carries around a white rabbit, and a Vietnamese man dressed like a priest. McDonagh seems to know his problem, as the film jokes about forgetting about these characters at the end. Perhaps Four or Five Psychopaths would have been better.
The film also makes an in-reference to the treatment of women, as Walken reads Farrell’s script and says he can’t write women characters. The women in this film are used horribly. Abbie Cornish is Farrell’s girlfriend, and all she does is act like a bitch (which she is called several times) and then gets shot in a fantasy sequence while wearing a wet t-shirt. Olga Kurylenko, featured in the poster, has about a minute of screen time, before also being dispatched violently, and Gabourey Sidibe has one scene in which she pitifully begs for her life. The only female character allowed to have dignity is Walken’s wife, played by Linda Bright Clay, but need I tell you how she ends up?
Seven Psychopaths also suffers from having been written and directed by someone who would seem to be a psychopath. I’m not suggesting McDonagh has mental problems, but the tone and pacing is so herky-jerky and undisciplined that psychosis could be assumed. Much of this derives from the character played by Rockwell, who is so over the top that one wishes he would get killed early on, but unfortunately he doesn’t.
There is much to admire here. The script has a lot of diamonds, with some great lines of dialogue. Walken’s performance is a thing to behold. He is an actor that freely indulges in self-parody (it’s amazing to hear him intone “Fuck the police! Fuck ’em!”) but he manages to do this while at the same time creating a character of depth. His speech at the end, regarding the Vietnamese character, gives the film an added weight that is appreciated, but is too little too late.
What the film needed was more rewrites and a director with a surer hand. Oh, and it also would help if it didn’t rip off the basic idea of the TV series Dexter.
My grade for Seven Psychopaths: C.