Seven Psychopaths (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Seven Psychopaths (2012)

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That's about enough out of youAndrew INDIFFERENCE BannerThe danger in confusing clever with patronizing is that the distinction is very small and once the former crosses into the latter the damage to any film is potentially fatal.  Martin McDonagh’s last film, the brilliant In Bruges, straddled this line perfectly.  It’s characters and dialogue seemed a bit too at home with the post-Tarantino world of pop-culture gangsters of the ‘90s but was anchored by a true sense of melancholy and awe of Bruges.  Moments that would have seemed over-the-top were instead infused with a deep empathy no matter how ridiculous they were.

Seven Psychopaths crosses the line far too often in its attempts at being clever.  Many artists have suffered to deliver a sophomore effort to an initial success and McDonagh toys with that directly.  Colin Farrell is a clear stand in for McDongah right down to his moniker Monty.  He’s having trouble writing his latest screenplay, also titled Seven Psychopaths for your meta convenience, and can’t seem to get over his writer’s block no matter how much booze he intakes and how many crazy stories he pilfers.

Marty somehow finds himself embroiled in a too-stuffed plot involving gangsters, a dognapping ring, various double-crosses, and the way fantasy and reality blend together in the creative process.  I’m not familiar with McDonagh’s work in the theater, but this meta-awareness game is not his forte.  In Bruges worked by telling a great story, Seven Psychopaths is weaker by focusing primarily on the performances and leaving the rest of the sporadically connected pieces to falter or flourish on their own.

Though overall disappointing, McDonagh still fills the film with a number of effectively stylish segments that could stand on their own.

Though overall disappointing, McDonagh still fills the film with a number of effectively stylish segments that could stand on their own.

However, those performances are mostly stellar.  Top marks go to Tom Waits who turns in an empathetic performance of a former killer of killers into a wounded rabbit-nourishing survivor.  Christopher Walken, as the scamming Hans, also gets a chance to do a little more acting instead of the odd monologue he’s been relegated to in recent years.  Farrell is fine as the straight-man, but Sam Rockwell, playing his best friend Billy, continues to play the same goofy idiot he’s done now a near dozen times.  Now I’d love to talk about the female performances, but the movie played a dirty trick that forced the film over that line into patronizing.

Every woman in the movie is tormented, killed, or relegated to a few token lines.  It’s a testament to Gabourey Sidibe’s talent that she’s able to squeeze out such an affecting moment given how little consideration she’s given.  Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko are not as fortunate.  My page began to fill up with notes regarding the casually callous way that the film was treating its female characters when they were onscreen.  Then, when Hans is reading Marty's screenplay he lets loose a torrent of criticisms about the way his writing is treating women characters.  It feels like the kind of note you would make during script rewrites and I don’t find it especially clever that the film is willing to acknowledge its own stereotypical limitation and then commenting on it without doing anything constructive.  That’s just lazy.

Unfortunately, it’s also indicative of a meta trend throughout the movie of telling you its shortcomings or telegraphing exactly what’s coming next.  The last forty minutes of the film fall completely flat because the first two acts deliberately tell us how it’s all going to end.  There’s no fun in watching a movie that tells you where it’s going, especially one with as many potentially chaotic elements as Seven Psychopaths.

I was ill-prepared for the character details that lie ahead thanks to this funny introduction to Tom Waits' character.

I was ill-prepared for the character details that lie ahead thanks to this funny introduction to Tom Waits' character.

Farrell is good, but without an anchor (like Bruges) the film falls apart.  Like many sophomore efforts there are still some great moments that stick amongst everything thrown at the screen.  The best involves a fantasy sequence with a murderer tormented by a vengeful Quaker which utilizes McDonagh’s strengths at hiding important details in plain sight.  He still calls attention too much attention to this, but at least it’s in a strong segment.  Also excellent is a very well written and terrifying scene where Woody Harrelson’s gangster proves he’s not as dumb as he appears when he shows up to extract information from Hans’ terrified wife (Linda Bright Clay).

For the rest, it’s too manic and self-congratulatory to like.  Individual moments play brilliantly but once the meta jokes wear off the film drags on until one final tired twists creeps up in the credits.  McDonagh is a great talent, and one I hope doesn’t feed on itself as time goes on.

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Seven Psychopaths - TailSeven Psychopaths (2012)

Directed and screenplay written by Martin McDonagh.
Starring Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and many others.

Posted by Andrew

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