Look at the poster art for ”Seven Psychopaths”. It not only looks familiar, it’s not the first time Colin Farrell’s been here. In 2003 he starred in a violent ensemble comedy called ”Intermission”. As well as sharing a lot of the design elements that helped market Trainspotting to such heights, the poster loudly proclaimed the film was ‘the bastard love child of Trainspotting and Love, Actually’.
Farrell, this time playing LA screenwriter Marty, is the put-upon hero who finds himself in the midst of so many violent, funny and violently funny situations he ends up just having to accept the insanity around him with each fresh twist or burst of bloodshed.
Struggling with his latest project about seven psychopaths, he’s tempted to accept the help of his crazy friend Billy (Sam Rockwell, having the most fun he has in a role in a long time), an unhinged actor who runs a dog kidnapping scam with good-natured pacifist Hans (Christopher Walken) on the side.
When Billy and Hans snatch the wrong dog – that of bloodthirsty gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson) – the race is on to get out of harm’s way before the vicious mobster can track them down.
Where does it go from there? Everywhere and – ironically – nowhere special. It’s like a group of screenwriters sat around over pizza talking about the best scenes or ideas they’d written and somebody shot them all and figured out how to connect them later. The other psychopaths include Marty’s hot Australian girlfriend (Abbie Cornish), a stoic Amish man (Harry Dean Stanton) who spends decades stalking and tormenting his daughter’s killer in a story-whtin-the-story, a man who made a career out of killing notorious murderers with the love of his life and who now carries a rabbit around with him (Tom Waits), and a Vietnamese man who might be a priest, a military general or a Buddhist monk and seems only to inhabit a series of dream sequences or flashbacks.
Sound strange? Such a motley description doesn’t even scratch the surface. It might be pure story-telling genius, a meta-narrative buried too deep to see on first viewing, but it just looks like the worst mish-mash ever thrown together on a screen. At some point when things go right off the rails you’ll hope it’s the former, but soon after you’ll decide the best thing to do is just go along with the laughs and accept it.
But writer/director Martin McDonagh (who was much more restrained in the far superior ”In Bruges”) even makes that hard for you to do. Despite Rockwell being in crazy rock star mode (always great to see), his character’s all over the place as much as the rest of the movie, never establishing himself as an idiot savant or just an idiot. Farrell is the straight man just trying to process what’s going on around him and not get his head blown off, and Walken and Waits lend gravity to the proceedings from their respective standpoints. But when bodies line the desert and streets, nothing seems to have belonged with anything else.
Plenty of critics have loved it, but you might agree with the considerable number who thought it was a blender-full of hackneyed ideas too coked up on their own self-love to have a throughline. One thing you can’t accuse ”Seven Psychopaths” of being is empty. The only question remaining is what exactly it’s full of? Without the benefit of another viewing or two, it just looks like all kinetic style and noise, no real story.