Martin McDonagh‘s In Bruges was one of the unexpected delights of 2008. It’s a film that’s endlessly watchable and as a result it makes the filmmaker’s follow-up, Seven Psychopaths, a much anticipated project. Taking into account McDonagh brought back his In Bruges star Colin Farrell and aligned opposite him the likes of Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits make it all sound too good to be true. It is, at least for those of us hoping lightning would strike twice.
Seven Psychopaths has all the same, great dialogue In Bruges had, which McDonagh is clearly a master of, and hiring Walken was a stroke of genius as I am hard-pressed to think of the last time I saw a performance from him I enjoyed as much as I did this one. It’s as if the dialogue was written specifically for him and then Walken somehow managed to elevate it even further. However, great dialogue, one-liners and speeches are one thing. The story is another.
The central focus here is on Farrell’s character, Marty, a Hollywood screenwriter who can’t seem to get beyond the title of his latest script… “Seven Psychopaths”. Recognizing his friend’s writer’s block, Billy (Rockwell), an unemployed actor working on the side kid-napping dogs with his partner Hans (Walken), decides to help inspire him.
Billy’s attempts at inspiration, however, result in the kidnapping of a Shih Tzu from a Los Angeles gangster (Harrelson) who’s bound and determined to not only get his dog back, but kill anyone that had anything to do with its disappearance. Madness ensues.
Considering the basis of the story, it’s actually put together rather well, very much in the way a screenwriter may attempt to flesh out a story with ideas popping in and out of his/her head, testing new character traits and bouncing story ideas off friends. This sporadic nature makes for some very funny moments and scenes, but as a cohesive narrative it feels as if it is constantly trying to put itself together, over and over again.
As I’ve said already, Walken is great, Seven Psychopaths is probably worth the price of admission for him alone. To hear him emphasize every syllable in “hallucinogen” was an absolute treat; his dissection of how Marty treats women in his screenplay and his final monologue are both excellent. Rockwell is also fantastic, wanting to contribute to Marty’s screenplay any way he can, he goes off on what must have been a ten minute diatribe on what would make the perfect shootout. He leaves no stone unturned.
Farrell’s character is far more tame than his In Bruges performance, but he still takes full advantage and the brief moments we spend with Tom Waits are well worth it.
However, all of these moments are individual pieces to a story where most everything else that surrounds them are simply “ho hum” and forgotten as soon as you see them. This isn’t to say Harrelson doesn’t have his moments and even Zeljko Ivanek has a couple of great lines, but all of these little standout moments don’t add up to an overall winning narrative.
The story feels like its on life support and needs a jump start every five minutes or so. And with a film that runs 11 minutes shy of two hours, that’s a lot of ups and downs.