This website covers an important term used by most of us at one time or other: psychopath. Unlike other blogs of mine here and here, this post delves into a comedic take on the term and subject of psychopathy.
So, here without further ado or comment is a recent movie review by
Seven Psychopaths: Revisiting Martin McDonagh’s Overlooked Gem.”
“When it was released in 2012, Seven Psychopaths came and went. Here’s why it should be considered one of Martin McDonagh’s best movies.
After a six-year hiatus from film, Martin McDonagh has returned with the humorous and quietly devastating The Banshees of Inisherin. The English director’s tar-black comedic streak has helped him carve out a unique niche for himself, crafting uproarious films around problematic characters and grim situations. His sensibilities are bracing and in-your-face, but his films pack a wallop, which is why each new release from him is a heavily-hyped event.
But one film in his repertoire seems unfairly overlooked: Seven Psychopaths. Released between his fire-cracker debut In Bruges and the Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, McDonagh’s sophomore feature feels like his attempt at something a little more playful and a little more “Hollywood” than his usual fare. The result is genre-jumping crime caper rife with quotable, crackling dialogue and a stacked cast of memorable characters. Here’s why Seven Psychopaths deserves your attention.
Breaking the Story of “Seven Psychopaths”
Colin Farrell stars as Marty, an alcoholic screenwriter battling an intense bout of writer’s block while working on his newest feature, called Seven Psychopaths. He has the catchy title, but hasn’t cracked the story yet, which he ultimately wants to be about “love and peace” but is unsure how to do it.
After an alcohol-induced outburst gets him kicked out of his home, Marty is forced to stay with his crass best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), a struggling actor who makes his living by kidnapping dogs from affluent families and collecting the reward money upon return. He operates this two-bit criminal enterprise with Hans (Christopher Walken), a soft-spoken but “old-testament” religious man who partakes in Billy’s schemes to pay for his wife’s cancer treatment.
But trouble soon finds the three of them when Billy kidnaps Bonny, a dog belonging to Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), a brutal local crime boss that will kill anything and anyone for the safe return of his cherished Shih-tzu. With the walls closing in on them, Marty, Billy, and Hans go on the run, which allows Marty the opportunity to write his story with the help of his two friends and the psychopaths they meet along the way.
The Seven Psychopaths
Upon release, Seven Psychopaths garnered a lot of comparisons to films like Pulp Fiction and Adaptation – and for good reason. McDonagh’s film stands apart from other crime capers thanks to its unique structure, featuring a number of seemingly disparate short stories focused on the quote-unquote “psychopaths.”
There’s Charlie Costello, of course; Zachariah, a serial killer of serial killers; a vengeance-driven Quaker; the mysterious “Jack of Diamonds” that kills gangsters; and a former Viet Cong fighter who travels to the U.S. to enact revenge against those responsible for the My Lai massacre.
McDonagh also did a wonderful job casting the film. Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken (especially Christopher Walken) are hilarious, and the three of them share incredible on-screen chemistry.
Woody Harrelson is both funny and terrifying as the unstable Charlie, a role which was originally intended for Mickey Rourke, who dropped out over “creative differences” with McDonagh. (But no matter – Harrelson owns the role, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing it).
The movie is also brimming with fantastic character actors, with two of the aforementioned psychopaths played by Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton. Kevin Corrigan, Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe, and Olga Kurylenko round out the absolutely stacked cast.
And who could forget Bonny, the cute Shih-Tzu that inadvertently kicks off this bloody misadventure.
Marty v. Martin
Seven Psychopaths is a curiously meta romp that only begins to show its true colors towards the end of the film (don’t worry, we’ll avoid spoilers here). But one doesn’t have to look far to recognize parallels between McDonagh and Marty, their shared names and Irish heritage being the most obvious nods.
Just like Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, Marty’s situation at the film’s opening mirrors McDonagh’s in a number of interesting ways. For starters, Seven Psychopaths is Marty’s second movie, and the source of his writer’s block may stem from the fear of not being able to recapture the spark that made his first movie so successful. Likewise, Seven Psychopaths was McDonagh’s follow-up to his first feature, In Bruges, which quickly became a critical and cult success that earned him his first Oscar nom for best original screenplay.
McDonagh expanded on the parallels between him and Marty in an interview with Steve Pond at The Wrap, stating that the movie started with the title and a couple short stories (which included the suicidal Quaker that appears in the film). But much like Marty, he wanted his movie to be “life-affirming” and imbued with peace and decency, despite the violent connotations of its title.
A Violent Movie with Buddhist Sensibilities
Seven Psychopaths also serves as a sly commentary on the violent nature of a lot of Hollywood action movies. Much of the violence in Seven Psychopaths is gruesome and excessive: throats are slit, heads explode, and people are set ablaze. There’s a tongue-and-cheek nature to most of it; McDonagh is clearly having a lot of fun.
But then he pulls the rug out from under you, and that bloody violence the viewer has been craving suddenly becomes wince-inducing and hard to stomach. It’s an effective commentary on what McDonagh considers the flippant and sometimes “crass” nature of violence in a lot of movies.
This is further emphasized by Sam Rockwell’s character Billy, who reflects the typical “hero” in a lot of these movies; a man who thinks violence is the answer to every problem in the world.
Through smart writing and Sam Rockwell’s pitch-perfect acting, McDonagh effectively shows the audience what these bloodthirsty action heroes would look like in the real world. (In short: psychotic).
An Overlooked Gem
At the end of the day, all this meta mumbo-jumbo wouldn’t matter if the film wasn’t any good. And luckily, Seven Psychopaths is very, very good. But when it was released in 2012, the movie came and went without much fanfare.
Despite favorable reviews, the film opened at #9 at the box-office, and dropped to 15 by its third week. Because of its small budget, the film was a minor success, but for whatever reason, people weren’t compelled to see it in theaters.
But a few years later, McDonagh returned with Three Billboards, which was a rousing success and earned McDonagh his first Oscar nom for best picture.
Banshees of Inisherin continued this trend, earning another best picture and best original screenplay nom for McDonagh. (Incredibly, three of his four movies have been nominated for best original screenplay. The only one without a nom is – you guessed it – Seven Psychopaths).
This isn’t to say those movies don’t deserve the praise they’ve received – they most certainly do – but it feels unjust to leave Seven Psychopaths out of the discussion. It’s a fantastic movie and a wonderful deconstruction of the action-movie genre, told with biting humor by one of the best, most dependable writer-directors working today. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check out Seven Psychopaths as soon as you can.”
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