Two hitmen stand at the side of a road discussing their work while a strange man in a red mask approaches from a distance. The first hitman accuses the other of being nervous regarding the job they have come to perform. The second replies sarcastically, “Yeah, look at me I’m shaking, I’ve got the chick-killing shakes.” The no-longer-distant man with the mask then shoots both in the head, tosses two Jack of Diamonds playing cards onto their bodies and casually walks away. And so begins Seven Psychopaths.
We move on from Psychopath No. 1 to meet Marty (Colin Farrell), a drunken Irish screenplay writer attempting to write a movie called Seven Psychopaths. He is stuck, so far, as all he has is a non-violent Buddhist psychopath. Enter Billy (Sam Rockwell), his crazy (though not necessarily a psychopath … yet) best friend. Billy conducts what some would consider a lucrative — and most would consider depraved — business: He kidnaps dogs and, once the reward is posted, sends in nice old man Hans (Christopher Walken) to claim the reward. Hans, who sports some gorgeous cravats, spends the rest of the time in the hospital with his wife who is dying from cancer.
Now the fun begins: Gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson)’s dog has gone missing. “Fatso,” the dog walker, has lost poor little Bonny the Shih Tzu to none other than our favorite dog thieves Billy and Hans. Kicked out of his house for crude drunken comments to his girlfriend, Marty somehow finds himself at gunpoint one moment and the next splattered in blood as Charlie’s henchman are murdered by none other than our No. 1 Psychopath, the aforementioned Jack of Diamonds himself. Bonny is to be found at Billy’s, who has not mentioned this theft to Hans. As if we truly need any more crazies, who can forget the trailer’s terrifying image of Tom Waits, portraying Zachariah, stroking his bunny outside Billy’s house. Long story short, him and his girlfriend are the Dexter’s of an even stranger psychopath world, but this story is best told through the evocative growl of Waits himself.
Slowly, plot strands start to unravel as the dead bodies pile up, but in a movie full of psychopaths, I expect no less. Hans, Marty, Billy and Bonny book it for the desert where Marty enlists their help in his screenplay. They all have different views of the end: Marty, sick of the violence in the Hollywood blockbuster, wants his psychopaths to end the movie having meaningful conversations in the desert. To this idea, Billy suggests they rename the movie “Seven Lesbians.” Billy then scripts a long shootout in a graveyard, where everyone dies, except of course, the animals. Because, as he wisely notes, “You can’t let animals die in a movie. Just the women.” And Hans … well Hans’ ending is quite different than either of these options. In a weird poetic way, however, each of the characters is given their ideal ending.
Seven Psychopaths is sexist, racist, crude and gory but, in like, the best possible way. Why have I not mentioned the women in the trailers and posters? Because none of them make an appearance for more than a scene and a half. Abbie Cornish, Linda Bright Clay, Amanda Mason Warren and Olga Kurylenko all turn in excellent performances, though granted very little screen-time. I almost hesitate to comment on Farrell, Walken, Harrelson, Rockwell and Waits. These are actors loving their roles and working in the prime of their careers. Put simply: They. Were. Amazing. Walken and Rockwell steal the show, and with these two together how can anything possibly go wrong?
This movie is a commentary on film, on action sequences, Hollywood and the state of the world in which we live. But, most importantly, this film is a twisted gruesome comedy and complex intricate story that keeps you on your toes. Director and writer Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) has successfully combined the Hollywood movie with the depth of an independent film, shocking his audience by moving beyond laughter and adrenaline and into true human emotions. McDonagh is conscious of exactly what he expects out of every shot and is able to achieve his vision. The parts seem tailor-made for the actors and McDonagh creates a self-aware film without throwing it in our faces as so many directors are prone to do.
Don’t get me wrong, Seven Psychopaths has faults a plenty; it acknowledges them openly and freely. That is, perhaps, why we forgive them. When a film can look at itself and tell you exactly where it went wrong, it somehow washes clean a great deal of our reprove. Hans goes into great detail about the two dimensional woman roles in Marty’s script, a sort of meta-joke as we examine the depth, or lack thereof, of the women’s roles in the very film we are watching. Gore seems to coat a great deal of the scenes, but looking back it is not the gore I remember. Sure, it was there and it was there for a purpose, but it was the moments in between and the look into the human soul that stood apart. I worry of McDonagh’s ability to craft psychopaths so convincingly, because psychopaths they truly are. I went into the movie expecting a Hollywood flick with lowbrow criminals getting in over their heads. What I got was an onslaught of true crazies and a film that will not soon be forgotten.