Having lived in Hollywood for the better part of three decades, a film like Seven Psychopaths appeals to the jaded, cynical side of me like few films in memory. Showbiz is full of the kind of half-wit crazies that populate director Martin McDonagh's second film: dog thieves, blocked screenwriters, mobsters and killers and thoroughly addled dreamers. Sounds like a description of my neighbors just down the block.
Mind you, this is no Sunset Boulevard, a once-gothic tale that now seems quaint by comparison. Seven Psychopaths glories in the brutal man-talk and gratuitous violence that made Pulp Fiction at once visceral and hilarious. This is filmmaking as shot through a funhouse mirror: tired tropes and cliché characters appear distended or flattened, and utter the kind of lines that used to pass for earnest dialogue, but which are now post-modern one-liners.
In other words, this is one extended exercise in Meta-Moviemaking, a movie about movies and storytelling, with more to say about how we passively consume boilerplate stories than it does about the nutso characters that fill the screen.
Nominally, the film is "about" a character named Marty (a perpetually startled Colin Farrell), whose alcoholism plays a central role in his writer's block, and whose girlfriend Kaya (Abbie Cornish) is well fed up with him. He has a title for his new script — Seven Psychopaths— and that's about it. The characters we meet in the film will one-by-one provide him with the dramatis personae he needs to finish his scenario.
Along the way, the troupe of character actors let loose on the screen are the true heart of the picture. From Christopher Walken's ascot-wearing Hans (one of the dognappers) to homicidal crime boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson), with deft minor turns by Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton, the film offers its actors a piquant array of skewed one-liners to amuse and shock us. And of course, Sam Rockwell plays the one true psychopath with great humor and very scary eyes.
Whatever the hyper-violent and convoluted plot adds up to by the end, as Gloucester says of his bastard son in King Lear: "there was good sport at his making." Never has so much fake blood been spilled with so many opportunities to chuckle simultaneously. If Pulp Fiction fathered this stance in modern cinema, Seven Psychopaths is a worthy successor to its crown.