Sunday, November 11, 2012

Seven Psychopaths

Martin McDonagh channels Tarantino and Charlie Kaufman in this crazy-ambitious meta follow-up to "In Bruges", writes Andrew O'Hehir: I have contradictory things to say about playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths,” which is pretty much in the spirit of the whole thing, since this movie is constantly rewriting itself and puncturing its own balloon. On one hand, McDonagh’s move into the American mainstream, and his follow-up to the Oscar-nominated international hit “In Bruges,” is admirably ambitious and brushes close to greatness at times. Both a movie about the movies and an L.A. crime thriller in the postmodern Tarantino tradition (forgive me for that phrase, if you can), “Seven Psychopaths” is loaded with scabrous, funny McDonagh dialogue and arguably overloaded with offbeat performances by terrific character actors: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and a little shih tzu named Bonny.

But having seen the movie and quite enjoyed it, I can’t shake the feeling that I wish “Seven Psychopaths” were something more than it is, or, to be more precise, were a different kind of thing altogether. Already one of the most accomplished contemporary dramatists (his acclaimed plays include “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and “The Pillowman”), McDonagh has taken on the movies with a passion, and here appears to be pursuing a Great White Whale I’m not sure is worth harpooning. This is a comic fable about an Irishman in Hollywood, written and directed by an Irishman who has evidently spent a good deal of time in Hollywood. (Although McDonagh was born and raised in England, he has always identified as an Irish writer.) It’s a self-regarding screenplay about screenwriting, more than a little bit influenced by Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation,” and it’s an attempt to create a classic American crime film and also to subvert the clich├ęs of that genre to other purposes. Personally, I’m receptive to all those things, but “Seven Psychopaths” winds up getting snarled in its competing and overlapping agendas and falling over.
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Writes Roger Ebert: Well, they have the title right. I don't know how these people found one another, but they certainly belong on the same list. They all have roles in a screenplay titled "Seven Psychopaths," which is under development by a writer named Marty Faranan, played by Colin Farrell. In Hollywood, "under development" means "all I have is the title."

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges"), this is a delightfully goofy, self-aware movie that knows it is a movie. You've heard of a movie within a movie? I think this is a movie without a movie. Some of it happens to Marty, some of it happens in Marty's imagination, and some of it seems to happen in one category and then invades another.

Consider an opening sequence with Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Pitt, who, on the basis of their conversation, are professional hit men. Or perhaps not very professional, because although they are in a wide-open space, they allow a man in a mask to walk right up and shoot them in the head.

Does this really happen? Figure it out for yourself. Marty's best friend is Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), and if his last name is the same as the hero in Marty Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," I leave that for you to puzzle out. Eager to help Marty escape from writer's block, Billy suggests a classified ad asking psychopaths to volunteer for interviews. Tom Waits knocks on the door and introduces himself as a serial killer who specializes in killing other serial killers. I forgot to mention that Los Angeles currently has an active serial killer named the Jack of Diamonds killer, who wipes out mobsters.
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