More noise than signal

Seven Psychopaths

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Colin Farrell’s Marty Faranan is struggling to write his latest screenplay, titled Seven Psychopaths. In fact, he’s currently only got the one of them, and he’s more of a Buddist that a psychopath. His best friend, actor Billy Bickle (Rockwell) gives him a constant stream of encouragement while slandering his girlfriend, suggesting that perhaps the real-life nutter going around killing mid-to-high level members of the Italian-American organised crime syndicate, calling himself the Jack of Diamonds, with a very literal calling card, would be a suitable inclusion.

When not hanging out with his friend, Billy’s out borrowing, or rather kidnapping, dogs from their owners for a while, allowing Christopher Walken’s Hans Kieslowski to return them a few days later when a reward has been posted. The not entirely credible narrative of this film kicks into high gear when they target the dog of another real-life nutter, gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), who is very keen to find his dog and those who besmirched him.

There’s more going on in Seven Psychopaths, a lot more, but recapping it soon sounds like a fever dream, so there’s little point telling you more than the basic setup. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, recently of course making waves along with Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, there’s a certain through line between these and In Bruges, although this moves out in a far more self-referential, post-modern direction.

Indeed, it shares at least some DNA with Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, without pushing the boat out quite as far from shore as that did. But there’s similar ideas there – the author self insertion, the metaness of it all, and to be honest, it does a much worse job of it than Jonze did a decade before.

Thankfully, no-one is here for a lesson in film structure. I hope. If you are you’ll be sorely disappointed, but I can cut it an awful lot of slack because it’s so very, very funny. McDonagh’s exchanges are sharply written, and the cast, to a person, delivers them pitch perfectly. There’s perhaps a bit of prior knowledge assumed with the action and buddy-cop films of the eighties and nineties to appreciate some of the humour, but nothing that life won’t already surely have inflicted on you, unless you’re too young to be watching this anyway.

I recall enjoying this greatly at the time, and this first rewatch perhaps makes the structural tricks and postmodern leanings a touch more obvious and grating, but that’s very heavily outweighed by how much I enjoyed the details of the dialog exchanges, and the excellent ensemble performance that Rockwell is a huge part of. I enjoyed this the most of all the films we’ve spoken about today – it’s not the best, in absolute terms – but it’s really entertaining. I like it. Watch it.