By Benji Tunnell
JOPLIN, Mo. —
In my years reviewing films, I’ve developed something of a distaste for generic, bland, factory-style films that come out of the movie studios. Long ago, Hollywood lost its willingness to innovate, becoming content to coast on sequels, remakes, adaptations and the like.
That’s why I make an effort to catch movies that buck this trend, such as “Seven Psychopaths.”
Writer/director Martin McDonagh previously created “In Bruges,” an Irish hit man movie with humor as black as a politician’s soul, so I was pretty excited to see his follow-up. “Psychopaths” is certainly a worthy second act; at times melancholic, at times manic and always outrageous, it weaves Tarantino-esque dialogue and comic violence with plot threads that lead the viewer to a conclusion other than the expected.
Colin Farrell plays Marty, an Irish alcoholic screenwriter who is struggling to make headway with his latest script, “Seven Psychopaths.” His best friend is Billy (Sam Rockwell), an oddball who has partnered up with Hans (Christopher Walken) to kidnap dogs and then return them to their owners for the reward money.
After Hans and Billy steal Bonnie, the beloved Shih Tzu of crime boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the duo scrambles to undo the damage it’s done before Charlie catches up to them. Meanwhile, Hans’ wife is in the hospital fighting cancer, and there is a masked killer who goes by the name of the Jack of Diamonds, who kills those with Italian organized crime connections (as well as the occasional Yakuza).
As Marty spirals down into depression and alcohol, he finds himself trapped by loyalty to his unhinged friend as the latest dognapping goes awry. All of these storylines intertwine to trip along the edge of the ludicrous while making for a thoroughly fun movie.
McDonagh uses the same dark humor as his previous work, but mixes in underlying emotions that endear every character. Each is supremely flawed, yet still allowed some form of redemption Ñ sometimes small, sometimes extreme.
As important are the actors, and each fully invests in his character. Farrell has made mostly smart career choices lately. His return to work with McDonagh allows the director, already familiar with his actor, to exploit his strengths in translating character to screen.
Harrelson has also been choosing some of the best roles of his career lately, and seemed to have fun playing Charlie, the hardened, angry man with a nauseatingly soft spot. Harrelson seems to be having almost as much fun here as he did in “Zombieland,” and it appears that he is being far more judicious in this chapter of his career.
Walken is, as always, reliable. As an actor, he tipped from award winning into self-parody, and now back into an actor with much still to give. Hans is the emotional center of the film: a damaged, loving man who struggles with his faith and demons but still acts as the moral conscience of the movie, and Walken delivers.
The highlight of the film, however, is Rockwell. He’s made a career out of the absurd, but he dives headfirst into Billy, adding a manic-ness to his idiosyncrasies, while still allowing for the turns in plot that his character must deliver. Rockwell has always been a bit underrated, but Billy is among the best roles of his career.
In addition, the music choices truly complement the action and story of the film. Whereas so many blockbusters have soundtracks designed to sell albums or downloads, here the music is another character in the movie.
From Hank Williams to a smartly inserted “Different Drum,” the music sets the scene, allowing the action to fill in around it. And P.P. Arnold’s soulful cover of Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut is the Deepest” will all but eradicate the memory of Sheryl Crow’s overly earnest take.
Every piece of the film works together to create an extremely satisfying final product. McDonagh crafts a deftly plotted, wildly entertaining, morbidly funny and satisfyingly cathartic story, and directs it with a sure hand that grows steadier with each film.