Review: Seven Psychopaths

Anticipation can be a seriously fickle mistress. Nowhere is this principle more apparentthan when it comes to the follow up to a successful creative venture, whether it be a film, an album, or anything else. If you see and come to love a movie made by a previously unknown director, you almost immediately start looking forward to his/her next project. You build up a level of anticipation for said upcoming project and as such, it becomes tougher and tougher for the follow-up film (or album or what have you) to measure up to the first one. It’s quite unfair, really. Such is the case with Seven Psychopaths, a perfectly decent dark comedy that disappoints based less on its own merits (or lack thereof) and more on the merits of its predecessor, In Bruges.

Marty (Colin Farrell) has been having trouble focusing. A struggling writer with a substantial alcohol problem, Marty is trying to come up with the characters and plot for his aptly titled screenplay, Seven Psychopaths, but failing to find the right inspiration. Sensing his friend’s troubles, Billy (Sam Rockwell) attempts to help Marty by providing some curiously detailed, psychotic stories and introducing him to his dog kidnapping partner, Hans (Christopher Walken). But when Billy snatches the wrong dog, one belonging to an emotionally disturbed crime lord named Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the trio has to evade a group of gangsters, culminating in a final showdown right out of the movies…or so Billy would have it.

The words one would use to describe Seven Psychopaths would be these: “Solid”, “Decent enough”, “Mildly satisfactory”, “Not bad”, or maybe even, “Pretty good.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. The concept is fun and entertaining. There’s a distinct Woody Allen feeling about this film mixed with Get Shorty sensibilities and that suits the self-aware undertones well. In this analogy, Farrell plays the role of Woody Allen in the form of writer/director Martin McDonagh and he does so well. I’ve always liked Farrell even when his movies were painful and I’ve enjoyed his recent resurgence. He’s a talented guy who, I think, just needs to have talent around him (on screen and off) in order to be great. Rockwell also has some very strong moments, though they are at times tempered by the feeling that he’s not doing anything new (though perhaps that’s an unfair criticism). Both of them are outshined, though, by Harrelson who brings hilarity to a role that badly needs it and Walken who, I think we can all agree, is always a genuine treat to watch in action. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Walken in a new movie and as such, Seven Psychopaths reminded me of what great presence the man has. The seriously dark nature of the film, too, suits the cast and allows them all to show off their skills.

The problem with Seven Psychopaths is two-fold. One, the narrative struggles to stay on target and build momentum. The first 20 minutes move along fast and the pace, combined with the introduction of some hilarious characters, makes it a thoroughly enjoyable beginning and the final 20 minutes wrap things up nicely. But in the middle portion, Seven Psychopathstakes some strange turns and slows to the point of bogging down at times. It’s a stop-and-go approach that left me somewhat frustrated. Two, Seven Psychopaths just isn’t up to par with In Bruges. I readily admit that this is an unfair criticism but I think it’s one that a large number of viewers will have in mind. In Bruges is a triumph, a modern classic in the dark comedy universe, and seeing as how it is the only other McDonagh film I have to go off of and the similarities in tone between it and Seven Psychopaths, it is difficult to refrain from comparing them. I anticipated something great and while the concept is great and at least one scene is magnificent, the end product is only alright.