In 2008, writer/director/playwright Martin McDonagh treated audiences to “In Bruges,” a delightfully dark romp through the lives of vacationing hit men played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. His screenplay was filled with snappy dialogue, dark humor, quirky characters, and unrelated-yet-memorable asides about alcoves and Chinese lollipop men. Some critics even referred to McDonagh as “Tarantino with a brain.” As big of a compliment as that might be, his brilliance as a writer cannot be overstated. As McDonagh has proven again with “Seven Psychopaths,” his natural ability to make the darkest material so satisfyingly funny and emotionally compelling is mind-boggling.
Every writer responds differently when presented with a dreaded case of writer’s block. Some take part in creative exercises, like playing with puzzles or slamming his or her head against the desk. Some drop their writing project entirely. Martin McDonagh writes a movie about writer’s block. Essentially, writing a movie about struggling to write said movie. Buckle up; stuff’s about to get Meta up in here.
“Seven Psychopaths” follows Marty (Colin Farrell), a struggling screenwriter with an alcohol problem. His fidgety actor friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) tries to help him through his writer’s block, namely with a screenplay about seven psychopaths entitled “Seven Psychopaths.” Billy runs a profitable dog-kidnapping operation on the side with the affable and surprisingly lovable crook Hans (Christopher Walken, with a movie-stealing performance). All three oddballs are eventually caught in a whole mess of bloody trouble when they steal the wrong man’s shih-tzu. Bonnie, the kidnapped dog, belongs to an insane, bloodthirsty mobster named Charlie (Woody Harrelson). What follows is an almost zany chase in and around Los Angeles, filled with enough criss-crossing storylines and hilarious conversations about unrelated topics that any Quentin Tarantino fan worth his or her salt should take notice.
If Charlie Kaufman and Quentin Tarantino had a wonderful movie baby together, it would be named “Seven Psychopaths.” Kaufman famously played with the idea of a movie about a screenwriter writing the movie as you watch it with “Adaptation” (2002). McDonagh utilizes the same sort of concept here, but plays it more loosely. Rather than showing the exact, specific pieces of the story unfolding out of the Meta rabbit hole, McDonagh’s characters only vaguely discuss story elements and characters that pop up later in the story we actually see. For example, Marty first talks about moving his characters out into the desert for the remainder of his screenplay, and then that’s exactly what happens to him and his two friends. McDonagh gives himself enough room here to play around and have some fun without being too specific for Meta purposes.
That being said, Christopher Walken gives an incredible performance here. Far and away my favorite out of the whole film. I would pay full admission again just to witness the one hysterical interaction between him and a gun-toting henchman near the end of the film. Colin Farrell is excellent as always, although his character is a little too close to the character he played in “In Bruges.” Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are both wonderfully psychotic. And Tom Waits, unsurprisingly, proves that he’s still just as dark and cuddly as ever.
This movie is the epitome of modern dark comedy done right. The oddball narrative, untraditional elements, and unpredictability may not be for everyone, but for those that don’t mind seeing something different, “Seven Psychopaths” is a rare treat.