"Give it back? He’s kidnapped! It’s a kidnapped dog, you don’t just give back a kidnapped dog, defeats the purpose of the kidnapping!"
Seven Psychopaths (2012) is (as you might expect) about psychos and (as you probably weren't expecting) storytelling. This is the second feature from British-Irish playwright turned writer/director Martin McDonagh. The film is an interesting meta film about the main character named Marty who is a film writer and trying to write a movie called Seven Psychopaths (it doesn’t get any more meta than that folks!) which he really only has a title and a vague idea of what direction he wants to go with it. During the course of writing the script, Marty starts to meet all these different Psychopaths in real life, some of which thanks to Marty’s best friend Billy who wants to help Marty co-author the script. The subplot of the film is about Billy who makes a living kidnapping peoples dogs for rewards, kidnapping the small shitzu of a psychotic gangster.
This film does really well at balancing violence and comedy, far better than most films do anyway. Where these odd tonal shifts don’t work well is between drama and violence/comedy, but for the most part I was genuinely impressed with how this film handles the shifts in tone. It has a lot of moments that are very over the top and sickeningly violent but something about the way it's handled with all of these really amusing and strange characters makes it hilarious at the same time.
The film drags a bit in the middle, I think this is because the subplot about the gangster trying to find his shitzu goes entirely missing in the middle. Then you’re left with the real plot about Marty trying to write a script and let’s face it, that’s just a whole lot less interesting. There’s a point in this middle where the guys joke about the right way to end a movie is just having a conversation traveling into the distance, no ultra dramatic conclusion and no crazy epic shoot out and of course this is while the characters are having a conversation traveling into the distance. I really like how the writer/director is just playing with the audience here, because for a minute I really thought he was going to end it like that! And honestly with the gangster being absent for so long, I was just warming up to the idea of him ending it right there.
There’s also some things that bothered me a bit, things that didn’t seem like they were handled as well as they could have been. This includes Marty finding Billy's diary while he was staying at Billy's place – proving he’s not a sinister character entirely, this just seemed kind of thrown in. There’s a part where Billy is referring to himself as the diamond killer while explaining his "ultimate ending” in the script, (SPOILER) but no one should know that he’s the diamond killer yet! - this wouldn't have been so weird if we just had some kind of explanation to why he's referring to himself as the killer, it could have easily been covered up but without any explanation it just seems odd. There's this little bit where Hans is recording his thoughts on the ending of the script (and putting a note on it for Marty to find!) – why would he do this? Did he know he was going to die, somehow? And unfortunately Zachariah’s story seems a little rushed for time and not as well planned as the rest of the movie. These things work in the film and most of them help the film, but I would have liked to have had some further explanation or better planning around them because they all took me out of the story a little bit when they happened.
The thing I really loved about this film is it’s characters, and all the problems with the story all kind of fall to the wayside when you realize this really is just a character driven story. There’s so many really wonderful characters in this movie, I couldn’t talk about all of them, but each of the characters is really unique, I liked how each seem unlike characters I’ve seen on the screen before and they all have some of the best character introduction scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Sam Rockwell, (the always wonderful) Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits really stand out in my mind as distinct, original and interesting portrayals of characters. I was just really blown away by the characters and actors in this film this is something you should study if you want to write interesting and original characters for film.
Hand in hand with the characters, I loved the dialogue in this film. It’s got that really snappy theatrical cadence that you’d expect from a playwright turned screenwriter and I really love that. Also each character really seems to have his own distinct voice, something that falls by the wayside in movies A LOT. Some of this is probably thanks to the great actors, but I think on a script level each character's voice has distinct mannerisms that make them speak and act differently than all the other characters.
And I got to hand it to Martin McDonagh for his direction, this film does a lot of really interesting things with the camerawork and cutting that make a story about writing a movie seem a lot more interesting than it actually is. All the cuts to fictional movie scenes are handled extremely well. And one last special nod to the special effects of the movie, this is a very violent movie and the effects are VERY believable. I think that almost all the effects in this film are done traditionally rather than using CG which I think once again shows how much better things can look if you do it the old school way.
Seven Psychopaths (2012) is a hilariously violent meta film that probably isn’t for everyone but if you enjoy character driven stories and really witty dialogue I’d highly recommend giving it a watch. 4.5/5 stars.
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