Martin McDonagh is one of the most talented wordsmiths working today, as well as a very accomplished director with an uncanny sense of framing. His previous film, In Bruges, was a modern masterpiece: funny, intelligent, moving and violent, its script was of a calibre we don’t see very often nowadays. So to say expectations were high for his follow-up would be a massive understatement.
To an extent, Seven Psychopaths is a true wonder. Focusing on struggling screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell), who is stuck in an eternal writer’s block and drinks heavily, the film tells the story of his involvement with an assortment of oddball characters. After his seemingly inept friend Billy (a terrific performance from Sam Rockwell) and his associate Hans (Christopher Walken, underplaying it beautifully), decide to kidnap the shih tzu of violent mobster Charlie for ransom, events escalate and get out of control, which might give Marty just the inspiration he needs…
As per his previous work , McDonagh’s strength are his characters: he is blessed with the ability to write funny, authentic dialogue that fleshes out this assortment of murderers, madmen and alcoholics. However, Seven Psychopaths lacks the structure of his previous work and wanders off in all directions. Instead of the story tightening its focus, the audience is treated to ever more growing digressions, which hurts the film because there simply is not enough time to bring all the loose ends together in a sensible fashion. The meta elements of the script constantly threaten to derail the film, especially in the third act – there’s a point in the last quarter where the self-conscious cleverness becomes almost too much to bear.
Perhaps the problem is with the unholy amount of characters that McDonagh tries to put on the screen. His desire to give each one enough screen time is to be applauded; however, with an ever-increasing number of flashbacks and stories, the film begins to feel more like a sketch show and less like a coherent story.
The film is set in America and it’s hard not to wonder whether this change of location may play some part in the sprawling script: McDonagh tries to bring in almost every cliché about L.A. to then turn them swiftly upside down. It’s as if he feels the need to settle into this new location by levelling it down and then re-building it as his own. A commendable attempt perhaps, but not one that works completely.
However, these can be considered minor complaints about a film that stands head and shoulders above most of what Hollywood can produce. McDonagh proves time and time again that it is his characters that matter to him, and through them draws the audience into his weird universe where almost anything can and will happen.
Seven Psychopaths is worth a watch if only to see McDonagh bring his magic touch to the strange deserts of America – a weird and whacked-out journey from which nothing and no one can emerge as expected.