Film Reviews

When Sam Rockwell (right) steals the wrong guy’s shih tzu, buddies Christopher Walken and Colin Ferrell feel the heat

Chaos in Search of Frenzy

The irreverent Seven Psychopaths mixes hilarity and bloody violence

Written and directed by playwright Martin McDonagh (the sublime In Bruges), the beautifully cast Seven Psychopaths is right next door to ultraviolence but delivers big laughs to a tough-minded audience. The story is what used to be called zany, but it’s also foul-mouthed (sometimes inspiredly so) and inventive.

Leaving the theatre after a raucous matinee, this writer heard some audience members indicating that the mix of bizarre characters was “unrealistic.” Au contraire. If you’ve ever lived in L.A., this thing might strike you as a documentary. This thing is the quintessence of seedy, fringe-area Los Angeles, peopled by show-biz wannabes, gangsters, genuine and ersatz psychos and “spiritual” types who ingest peyote the way some recent Hawai’i immigrants dote on betel nut.

Here’s the deal: Colin Farrell is a screenwriter with writer’s block and only a title for his stalled script–“Seven Psychopaths.” He soon does research on the subject by tapping into friends’ real-life experiences and reading books and papers. But soon his own up-close-and-personal experiences supply him with more than enough examples. Among the actors playing killers and victims and ne’er do wells are these stalwarts: Christopher Walken (inspired, hilarious), Woody Harrelson (a gangster, grief-stricken because his beloved shih tzu has been kidnapped), Sam Rockwell as a secret psychopath, and Tom Waits. All these performers have a field day, letting out all the bloody stops.

Shot in L.A. amidst its garish colors, scored by Carter Burwell (Fargo), this movie-movie ricochets from real to imagined psychopathic escapades till we can’t tell the real thing from the dramatized.

One by one the movie script introduces psychopath by psychopath and, by extension, our movie expands the list into bloody visual anecdotes detailing the action. Exploding heads, anyone?

Writer-director McDonagh is regularly attacked by high-minded critics as being the most politically incorrect writer around, using, for example, the n-word, calling gays “fags,” women “cunts” and on-and-on, a veritable list of no-nos. Audiences cringe as they laugh, but there’s no use in denying that McDonagh isn’t very talented, placing the words in hilarious sequences.

One psychopath is a professional dog-napper who then collects the rewards; one is a work-for-hire killer who loves his work, and one is… well, that would be telling. We’re not going to tell you more; in a movie of this kind–crazy and a bit tongue-in-cheek–surprise is nearly all.

In short, the movie is a hilarious triumph over Good Taste, but its L.A-specific vibes are quite authentic, and its characters beautifully turned out.

You might be offended, but, then again, maybe you need to be. This is the best trashy movie of the season.