‘Psychopaths’ a meta marvel
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 23:10
Film criticism is common. Newspapers, TV shows, online and even this very paper are chock-full of people’s opinions on movies. But it’s rare to see a film criticized by its own screenplay. “Seven Psychopaths,” then, is a rare film.
As the third effort by Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh, whose last work was the absolutely fantastic “In Bruges,” “Psychopaths” stands far above most of what’s at the box office right now, thanks to its stellar cast and fantastic screenplay, not to mention its original, fractured take on the crime thriller. It’s definitely not for everyone, as it’s a meditation on the qualities of film itself as much as a madcap crime thriller, but film buffs will be in love with McDonagh’s work.
As the film begins, Colin Farrell’s character Marty (shades of McDonagh writing himself into the movie) is smack-dab in the middle of writer’s block. He’s got his title, “Seven Psychopaths,” but he can’t get any characters fitting the bill down onto a page. Marty doesn’t even want the film to be violent, like the name suggests; he’d prefer a message of peace amid the bloodshed.
Though Marty’s the main character, he mostly observes the titular psychos’ psychotic behavior around him, seeking inspiration for his script. Those psychos earn their titles; a few are serial killers, others kidnap dogs around Los Angeles and live off the rewards, and one’s a very angry mob boss seeking his kidnapped dog.
The plot’s sprawling, but the performers make the material work well. McDonagh’s script is full of biting wit and great one-liners, many of them perfect for characters slightly unhinged from reality (what with all of the bloodshed). And the cast is excellent. Farrell infuses the soul of a writer into Marty, making him very realistic between the alcoholism, pacifism and writer’s block, while Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken play two of Marty’s friends (spoilers: they’re somewhat psychopathic) and play them well, with Walken in particular owning his character’s Zen state. Tom Waits and Woody Harrelson round out the cast.
Where McDonagh’s script really shines, and turns “Psychopaths” into the unique piece of cinema it is, is its meta-commentary on the film itself. The few female characters are poorly-written, for example. In most films, this would be obvious, docking the film some points. Instead, McDonagh’s script is self-aware; halfway through, Walken’s character reads an early draft of Marty’s script and calls him out on having no well-written female characters. When characters suggest stories for Marty’s script, they’re hyper-critical of the film itself, debating whether possible plot turns would be interesting or boring; the film itself then takes the route its characters decide are the best. McDonagh throws an incredible amount of skill into his work. Every shot means something, every plot point culminates in an ending and almost every detail works.
Don’t get me wrong, it has a few problems. The script can be a bit too full of itself, though it earns most of its bragging, and the lack of strong female characters does become noticeable in the second half of the film. But these are minor quabbles about a major success. With any luck, McDonagh will be nominated for an Oscar (or at least a Golden Globe or BAFTA) for his script, and the ensemble could rack up a few awards. They deserve it. “Psychopaths” is a black comedy that’s a force to be reckoned with.