Movie review: Seven Psychopaths, Lurid pulp metafiction with a sly touch of the Tarantinos

4.00

(15)

From Barton Fink going mad in a hotel room to William Holden face down in a swimming pool in Sunset Boulevard, we’ve had plenty of films about the misadventures of screenwriters in Hollywood. Playwright turned film-maker Martin McDonagh’s second feature after In Bruges isn’t exactly original. It’s a self-reflexive affair about a hard-drinking writer (Colin Farrell) who can’t finish a script – a plight one guesses McDonagh himself must have been suffering from when he started work on it. As he struggles for inspiration, Marty is caught up in the middle of a real-life, shaggy-dog kidnapping story.

Seven Psychopaths is far-fetched,  relentlessly superficial and luridly  violent. It is also very funny, indeed. McDonagh has a flair both for deadpan, absurdist humour and for slapstick. His actors enjoy themselves, too. The much-maligned Farrell may sometimes struggle in dramatic roles but he excels in the kind of comedies McDonagh writes. Here, he retains  a boyish naiveté even as the most bloodcurdling and outlandish events occur around him.

As in Quentin Tarantino’s films, wisecracking dialogue is combined with often very vicious scenes of torture and killing. The violence is intended to be cartoonish and tongue in cheek but it’s the nature of live action film that it seems realistic. There is a sadistic element here that will alienate some audiences. One scene in  particular grates. We see hardbitten gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson) threatening his terrified dog walker Sharice (Gabourey Sibide) because she has allowed his beloved Shih Tzu to be kidnapped. Of course, it’s a preposterous and comic premise – the ruthless gangland boss who drools over his pet pug. The title itself tells us that this  is not a story about peaceable, well- balanced types. Sharice’s terror, though, seems painfully real. McDonagh delights in showing her discomfiture. At such moments, the film takes on a repellent quality.

Thankfully, such moments are rare. Given the high body count, the tone of the film is surprisingly good- natured. It helps that McDonagh has recruited such distinctive actors. Tom Waits (as a serial killer of serial killers) and Harry Dean Stanton (a quaker  psychopath) feature in cameos, Christopher Walken has a much more substantial role and gives the film what little emotional depth it has as the Gandhi-quoting leader of the dog kidnapping ring. Strangely dapper but with a Bela Lugosi-like pallor, he intones his lines in that lilting monotone familiar from his earlier gangster  movies like King of New York. He is an intriguing combination of petty crook and peyote-taking visionary. In his scenes with his cancer-ridden wife, he shows an unlikely tenderness. His  uncanny calm contrasts with the manic behaviour of Marty’s best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), who behaves with the grinning inanity of a children’s TV presenter but turns out to be more deranged than anyone else.

Like Alex Cox’s Repo Man, this is  determinedly oddball film-making. In most thrillers, the protagonists are  taciturn, alpha male types. Here, they are neurotics who can’t stop talking. McDonagh is scattershot in his references, throwing in moments that are evocative of old Sam Peckinpah Westerns as well as motifs you might expect to find in low-grade Michael Winner vigilante thrillers. Locations range from LA suburbia to majestic desert landscapes. The writer-director strives to have it both ways – to send up cheesy exploitation pics even as he is celebrating them. There is a tension between the action and the ironic dialogue that undercuts it. The sexual politics are on the neanderthal side. Women characters are there to be cursed at, ogled or shot. Marty is hen-pecked by his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish). Olga Kurylenko’s brief role as Harrelson’s two-timing girlfriend Angela is a grotesque caricature of the typical femme fatale in film noir. The stereotyping is, of course, deliberate. McDonagh is showing up just how crudely the women characters are treated in B movies.

The McDonagh brothers’ movies – In Bruges, John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard and now Martin’s Seven Psychopaths – constitute a mini genre on their own. They are dark and violent comedy-thrillers in which action and wisecracking dialogue sit side by side. Their heroes tend to be venal, sleazy types. The plots are deliberately far-fetched. There is a touch of blarney about them. Of themselves, they are very entertaining, even as the McDonagh brothers risk boxing themselves into a corner.

Often, self-reflexive movies like this become very tiresome. There is a sense of Chinese boxes about stories in which the storytellers try to dramatise the very act of telling stories. As in all shaggy-dog yarns, there is little sense of where the narrative is heading or why. However, the sheer relish with which McDonagh and his cast attack the material is so exhilarating that we hardly notice the holes in the plot. Old wisdom about why actors should not appear alongside dogs and children doesn’t apply when you have Christopher Walken in a cravat sharing the screen, and easily holding his own, with an equally well-manicured Shih Tzu dog. As in the best sitcoms, the real drama lies in the relationship between the characters and the dialogue rather than in who they are or what they do. It’s a mistake to look for greater meanings here or to try to  understand the often unfathomable behaviour of the protagonists. Instead, enjoy Seven Psychopaths for what it  is – a very tall and very lurid tale about nothing in particular.

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments