Seven Psychopaths, written and directed by In Bruges's Martin McDonagh, features a character named Martin (Colin Farrell) who is a screenwriter working on a script for a film called...Seven Psychopaths. Now, before the idea of one of those ludicrous meta-movies where the movie you're watching turns out to be the movie the characters are writing whatatwist! makes you run screaming from the theater, know that Seven Psychopaths is more in line with Altman's The Player than anything else, where the movie in the movie is used more as a thematic tool than a means for some asinine twist.
What Seven Psychopaths offers, then, is one of the funniest and most violent movies of the year. What else would you expect from the mind behind In Bruges?
The aforementioned Martin, barely working on his Seven Psychopaths script, is surrounded by a coterie of complete whack-jobs. There's best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) and his soft-spoken partner Hans (Christopher Walken), who scam rich people by kidnapping their dogs, waiting until signs appear offering a reward, then returning the dog and pocketing the cash. That wonderfully American enterpise is squashed when Billy and Hans kidnap Bonny, a Shih Tzu beloved by local completely fuckballs insane gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Charlie, putting it mildly, gets a little angry and cuts a bloody swath towards Billy, Hans, and the hapless Martin, who gets pulled along for the ride under Billy's insistence that it'll help with his screenplay. Oh, and also there's a mysterious man killing gangsters and leaving jack of diamonds playing cards at the scene of his crimes. Tom Waits shows up and tells a bizarre, heart-wrenching story of love, murder, and bunny rabbits. His character has a name, but you're just going to sit there and say, "Holy shit, that's Tom Waits playing Tom Waits," because it's fucking Tom Waits. Yep, this is definitely vintage Martin McDonagh.
There'a also a cameo from the Actor's Actor, the Main Man, Harry Dean Motherfucking Stanton.
There aren't enough words in the dictionary to describe how much this ensemble kills it. Each actor brings some of their own personality into each character. Hans, as the non-violent yet intimidating older gent with the potentially violent past is such a Christopher Walken character, though to Walken's credit, he manages to inject so much heart and pathos into this character, who inevitably becomes one of the more tragic figures in the story. Woody Harrelson probably has the most over-the-top role, shifting on a dime from a murderous, cold-blooded rage to breaking down in hysterical tears over the disappearance of his beloved Bonny. Dog owners will probably sympathize more with Charlie for this reason moreso than any of the other characters.
There are a pair of female characters, Martin's girlfriend Kaya (Abbie Cornish) and Charlie's girlfriend Angela (Olga Kurylenko), but they get very little screen time or meaningful dialogue. However, this turns out to be a tool McDonagh is using to comment on action movies and the female role within them. The effect of violence and how we choose to respond to it is one of the key themes of the film, largely personified in the dichotomy between the manic Billy, searching for the giant action finish he dreams this whole situation will end in (which we get to see in hilarious detail), and the pacifistic Martin, who just wants to get out of the crazy mess Billy's gotten them all in. There's a great effort made to subvert your usual action movie cliche moments as well. It's rare that you get a movie that's often so concerned with being cool and stylish and bloody that also manages to put some serious thoughts about what that cool violence implies, even if it's for justified revenge or has some other "redeeming motive." The violence in Seven Psychopaths, like life, is often sudden and never ends well.
As to be expected from a script from Martin McDonagh, the script is rapid-fire clever, and it manages to successfully toe that line between clever, exciting dialogue and the Juno/Aaron Sorkin style "every character is stupidly sharp with words so the characters start to bleed together." The dialogue is razor sharp, an actor's delight, and you can see the cast reveling in the world they're getting to play in. There are certainly some pacing issues approaching the third act, when the film starts to fit in a lot of the resolution to many of the previous thematic elements. There's a lot of cool things being discussed, but it's being discussed by three guys sitting around in the desert. Sharp dialogue or no, the film can only take but so long to take the pace down a notch before it starts to get a little tedious.
Seven Psychopaths easily has more heart and soul than your average action movie, thanks to Martin McDonagh's wonderful script and some wonderful performances. It's a perfect evolution that started with In Bruges, and will hopefully lead McDonagh on to even greater things.