Opening with a shot of the Hollywood sign that ends in a splattery mess, playwright Martin McDonagh’s second feature film dearly wants to be a poison pen letter to all the bullshit swaggering stereotypes that put food on his table. What’s amazing is that it almost succeeds.
McDonagh’s 2008 debut In Bruges is already attaining the luster of a classic. Seven Psychopaths seeks to bite the hand that feeds, casting Colin Farrell as a drunken loser screenwriter—naturally named Martin—who falls in with a couple of low-rent dog-nappers (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken) making their living hustling pooches from the tar pits, eventually returning the canines to grateful owners and cashing sizeable reward checks.
Problems arise when they swipe a shih tzu from an emotionally imbalanced crime lord played by Woody Harrelson, and then all the wrong people get murdered. It’s a silly, stupid series of contrivances over a dumb little dog, which I think is probably McDonagh’s point. Seven Psychopaths aims to mock a culture of potty-mouthed gangster wannabes who have seen too many movies, calling out the viewer for engaging in such adolescent empowerment fantasies, while at the same time working pretty well as an example of the genre. A neat trick.
It’s also a fit of apocalyptic self-loathing, as Farrell’s dopey screenwriter over-romanticizes psychopaths until he meets a handful of them himself. A mid-film fever dream montage narrated by Rockwell suggests what might happen if Charlie Kaufman wrote a Sam Peckinpah movie, indicting the audience for eating up such dangerous, juvenile fantasies.
Moment to moment, Seven Psychopaths had me in tears of laughter, mostly because McDonagh writes blistering arias of profanity, and he’s got a who’s-who here of phenomenal character actors to deliver them. (My new favorite Irish joke is that all these murderers are always sanctimoniously scolding Farrell because he drinks too much.) I’m not sure it all hangs together in the end, but McDonagh’s grasping at something interesting. And I laughed so hard, I made a spectacle of myself.