I finally got around to seeing Seven Psychopaths the other day.
It’s . . . well, it’s certainly interesting.
Marty (Colin Farrell), a screenwriter struggling with writer’s block (and alcoholism), gets mixed up with serial killers, the mafia, and any number of other psychopaths when his buddy, Billy (Sam Rockwell), kidnaps a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.
1. It’s kind of hard to talk about Seven Psychopaths without spoilers, so I’m figuring this section of the review isn’t going to be very long. But even with spoilers, my review might be a little . . . muddled . . . because I haven’t entirely decided how I feel about this movie yet. It kind of rambles (not unlike myself), sometimes on course, other times shapeless. In a lot of ways, Seven Psychopaths feels like director/writer Martin McDonagh is engaging in a dialogue with himself. And while some of that makes for surprisingly interesting material — assuming you’re cool with a shitload of meta humor — it definitely leaves the story a bit on the messy side.
2. It’s interesting, too: maybe halfway through the film, I was thinking to myself, Okay, this is kind of fun, but man, I wish there were better female characters in this story. And then, not TWO MINUTES LATER, Christopher Walken is calling out Colin Farrell for writing crappy, poorly considered women — which, if this isn’t clear, isn’t McDonagh being obtuse. He’s obviously aware of the problem in his own script, and he’s actually talking about it. This scene — coupled with a related one later on where Billy is acting out how he thinks Marty’s movie should end — made me laugh my ass off.
Still. I kind of wish a strong female character had actually emerged by the end of the movie. It would have been nice to see. Not to mention, I think Marty’s girlfriend, Kaya (Abbie Cornish), feel a little out of balance with the rest of the story. I was kind of hoping something else would happen with her by the end.
3. Acting-wise, this movie is pretty solid. Colin Farrell is playing the straight man here, so he doesn’t have as much opportunity to shine despite being the protagonist. Still, he has a few line deliveries and reactions I really like. Christopher Walken is his usual, enjoyable self; see, also, Woody Harrelson. And though she’s not a huge part, I do enjoy Linda Bright Clay as Myra, Christopher Walken’s wife. There’s one scene with her and Woody Harrelson that she’s particularly good in.
Sam Rockwell, though, is probably the standout here.
I don’t know if this role is so far out of his wheelhouse — Rockwell plays a lot of weird characters — but he gives the performance his all. He has massive amounts of energy in each scene, and if he’s on camera, you’re pretty much always drawn to him.
4. There are also a ton of pretty awesome actors in small-parts and cameos. I kept going like, Wait, I know this guy. Hey, I know this guy too. Some people you might recognize: Michael Pitt, Tom Waits, Zeljko Ivanek, Harry Dean Stanton, Kevin Corrigan, Gabourey Sidibe, and — apparently — Crispin Glover. (He’s such a tiny cameo that I didn’t actually notice him. But I guess he’s in there.)
5. The script may be all over the place, but the dialogue is hilarious. The Quotes Section might actually be longer than the review itself. (Well, okay, probably not. But there are some pretty funny conversations in here.)
And . . . well, I guess that’s all I can say without spoilers. So . . . let’s just get to those, shall we?
I can’t recap this whole movie. I just can’t. There’s way too much weird meta shit that I don’t have the slightest interest in trying to explain for the people who haven’t seen the movie but are reading the Spoiler Section anyway. (You HEATHENS.) This is a more or less accurate plot synopsis, if you’re interested, although it leaves out certain things, like, for example, the ‘Avenging Vietnamese Priest/Sacrificial Buddhist Monk’ Psychopath.
So, back to my thoughts about how this movie feels (to me, anyway) like Martin McDonagh struggling with both what he wants to write about and how he looks at stories now versus how he might have looked at them when he was younger.
First, we have Marty talking a lot about how he doesn’t just want to write violent stories anymore. Even though he’s writing a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths, he wants there to be some kind of message about peace or transcendence or something by the end. Billy, who is a psychopath, is having none of this — he wants both Marty’s movie and his own life to end in the most overtop, balls-to-the-wall violence. Basically, he wants every action movie cliche ever to come to pass.
Billy’s vision of how the movie should end includes:
A. A flamethrower
B. A surprise crossbow
C. Marty’s (now ex) girlfriend (who’s wearing a white T-shirt with no bra in the middle of a rainstorm) running out cluelessly into the middle of the gunfight, only to get shot all to hell before Marty can get to her. (But the rabbit escapes because, as we all know, killing women in movies is inconsequential, but killing an animal? UNACCEPTABLE. In related news, I think I started crying, I was laughing so hard.)
D. Almost every good psychopath dying, with the only woman psychopath (and also only black psychopath) dying first.
E. Billy/Jack of Spades briefly and miraculously coming back from the dead to shoot Charlie (Woody Harrelson) before he can kill Marty and Hans (Christopher Walken).
Billy and Marty also have this discussion (slightly earlier) while talking about Marty’s film:
Billy: “That’s a great fucking psychopath, Marty.”
Marty: “Yeah, but it’s not what I wanna really be writing about anymore.”
Billy: “Hey, new idea. How about we change the title from Seven Psychopaths to The Seven Lesbians Who Are All Disabled and Have Overcome All Their Spazzy Shit and Are Really Nice to Everybody and Two of Them Are Black. How about that?”
There’s a lot of talking in the SF/F community right now (well, it’s probably been going on for a really long time, but it feels like right now) about how we need more minority characters, more disabled characters, more gay characters, etc., which is something I happen to agree with. Of course, then the argument usually gets ugly with people complaining that fiction is getting too PC, and this is all a liberal agenda, and so on and so forth. The outright crazy racists are easy for me to ignore, but I do understand where some people are coming from when they feel uncomfortable about writing from the POV of non-white, non-hetero characters. They might, for example, feel like it’s awkward and/or manipulative to make a character black when they initially pictured everyone as default white, or maybe they’re just worried about getting shit wrong and being called out as a racist asshole.
I totally get that because I’ve felt that way myself (still do sometimes, actually, let’s not pretend I’m some kind of enlightened being who isn’t still working through her own shit all of the time), but I also know that just cowering to those fears and only writing about straight, white, cisgender, middle-class monotheists is kind of bullshit because there are so many different kinds of people in the world, and they all deserve to be represented as actual characters, not just, like, the third extra henchmen in a warehouse or something. I mean, I’m still looking for better female representation in fiction, and women only compromise something around, what, 50% of the world’s population? (I didn’t look up an actual stat. If the actual percentage is less than 3% off in either direction, I don’t even want to hear about it.)
Which is all a very long way of saying that the dialogue above reminds me of a writer arguing with himself over the pressure he feels about writing for different kinds of characters. And I’m not sure he ever comes to any answers, exactly, but it’s interesting to see someone in movies talking about it. And if McDonagh always did land on the “Wah, I’m only going to write about straight white male psychopaths, and you can’t stop me!”side, well, I’d probably be annoyed.
But we also get this scene, which I alluded to before in the Non-Spoiler Section:
Hans: “Marty, I’ve been reading your movie. Your women characters are awful! None of them have anything to say for themselves. And most of them get either shot or stabbed to death within five minutes. And the ones that don’t probably will later on.”
Marty: “Well . . . it’s a hard world for women. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.”
Hans: “Yeah, it’s a hard world for women, but most of the ones I know can string a sentence together.”
I about died. I could have hugged Hans right then.
Of course, I don’t really know what McDonagh was thinking when he wrote this. I haven’t met the guy. Maybe this movie was about something else entirely to him — but to me, it feels like an exploration of these issues. The film definitely starts one place and ends somewhere else entirely, which, I don’t know. I think there’s something kind of cool about that. But I also tend to favor stories that are more neatly structured, and at times, I do feel like this movie is a lot more chaotic and sloppy than it needs to be. It could be the kind of movie that grows on me with repeat viewings, though. I’ll guess I’ll figure that out if/when I eventually watch it again.
The movie ends with basically everyone dead except Marty and Charlie. Charlie goes to jail. Marty lives, takes ownership of Bonnie the Shih Tzu, and gets past his writing block. Then, in an in-credits scene that totally works for me, Tom Waits and his pet bunny threaten to kill Marty (on Tuesday), since Marty totally forgot to write-in an important message he promised on his life to write. (Maybe Moral of the Story? Don’t promise on your life to do anything.)
Marty’s like, “That’s fair,” cause you know. He’s not really doing anything on Tuesday. And Tom Waits is like, “Man, you’ve changed, and maybe Tuesday doesn’t work for me so well after all.”
And then the movie’s really over.
Paulo: “Put your hands up.”
Hans: “I said no.”
Paulo: “Why not?”
Hans: “Because I don’t want to.”
Paulo: “But I’ve got a gun.”
Hans: “I don’t care.
Paulo: “That doesn’t make any sense!”
Hans: “Too bad.”
Zachariah: “You think I’m not serious just because I carry a rabbit?”
Hans: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole blind. I believe that whole-heartedly.”
Billy: “No, it doesn’t! There’ll be one guy left with one eye. How’s the last blind guy gonna take out the eye of the last guy left, who’s got one eye? All that guy has to do is run away and hide behind a bush. Gandhi was wrong; it’s just that nobody’s got the balls to come right out and say it.”
Billy: “Okay, you seem normal.”
Marty: “That’s just fucking great! Oh, great! Do you know what that is? Do you know what that is?”
Marty: “That’s just fucking GREAT!”
Billy: “Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . .”
Charlie: “Wait. Please go back to five, please.”
Billy: “I’m not going back to five, man! I’m not going back to five! (beat) Five . . .”
Tommy: “You ever shoot a guy in the eyeball?”
Larry: “I stabbed a guy in the ear once. Ice pick, right in his fucking ear.”
Tommy: “You see, that’d be a different subject. That’d be ears.”
Charlie: “You should’ve brought that gun along.”
Marty: “I don’t believe in them.”
Charlie: “In guns? You don’t believe in guns? They ain’t fucking leprechauns.”
Hans: “Yeah, you might wanna stop drinking, Martin, if this is how you’re gonna behave.”
Marty: “If this is the way I’m gonna . . . this guy just telephoned a psycho killer to come down and psycho kill us. And this guy’s doubting a lifelong belief in the afterlife because of a psychedelic cactus he just ate. And you motherfuckers are telling me how to behave?”
Marty: “Yeah, I’m sick of all these stereotypical Hollywood murder scumbag type psychopath movies. I don’t want it to be one more film about guys with guns in their hands. I want it . . . overall . . . to be about love . . . and peace. But it still has to be about these seven psychopaths, so this Buddhist psychopath, he . . . he doesn’t believe in violence. I don’t know what the fuck he’s going to do in the movie.”
Marty: “Friends don’t make their friends die, Hans.”
Hans: “Psychopathic friends do. You’re the one who thought psychopaths were so interesting, but they’re kinda tiresome after awhile, don’t you think?”
Zachariah: “I’m going to be over to kill you on Tuesday.”
Marty: “That’s good. I’m not doing anything Tuesday.”
Funny, interesting, a little sloppy. It seems like the kind of movie that appeals to writers. I don’t know how non-writers would feel about it. (Though I’m sure someone will tell me.)
SUPER TENTATIVE GRADE:
Um. Kidnapping dogs and bringing them back to their grateful owners for reward money is a really terrible way to make money and will probably get you and your family killed, you fucking assholes? (Also, seriously. Don’t promise anything on your life.)