Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) is an Irishman in Hollywood reliably churning out screenplays brimming with bullets and blood.
For his latest, he has a title — “Seven Psychopaths” — but no plot. And he’s not sure he wants to be the go-to guy for violent movies anymore.
Complicating Marty’s writer’s block is his best pal, Billy (Sam Rockwell), a volatile actor who wants to help write the screenplay.
What ensues in playwright Martin McDonagh’s clever follow-up to his feature film debut “In Bruges” is the tug-of-war of a writer wrestling with his own worst instincts.
Billy makes ends meet dog-napping at the La Brea Tar Pits with his partner Hans (Christopher Walken). It’s a lucrative racket: If Walken showed up on your doorstep wearing an ascot and cuddling your precious schnauzer, wouldn’t you empty your wallet? Billy inadvertently helps out Marty’s screenplay when he steals a dog belonging to an actual psychopath, a mobster played by a gleeful Woody Harrelson.
But reality does not so much intrude on storytelling as storytelling does on reality. The stoic Hans harbors no showbiz ambitions, but as the embodiment of Marty’s Buddhist aspirations he’ll have his say in the screenplay. As the three escape to the desert, it’s ego (Marty), id (Billy) and superego (Hans) jostling for dominance and the screenplay’s last word. No wonder Marty drinks too much.
The gore in “Seven Psychopaths” may be over-the-top and its mobsters smart-mouthed, but it’s no Quentin Tarantino retread, announcing as much in the film’s parodic opening. Like “Scream,” “Seven Psychopaths” is a movie about characters who know the rules of the genre. It’s also a critique of the genre, its victimization of women and the Hollywood screenwriter’s deplorable assumption that anyone who matters — particularly if they’re female — is white.
McDonagh’s first short, the Oscar-winning “Six Shooter,” and his first feature, “In Bruges,” were frankly theatrical, turning a train and a town square, respectively, into stage sets. With its multiple locations and movies-within-the movie, “Seven Psychopaths” leaves the stage behind, even if it is, paradoxically, less smoothly accomplished. The motormouthed dialogue has been slowed to a more leisurely tempo. Some of the more offensive slurs land with a thud.
This time Farrell, the whirling dervish around whom “In Bruges” revolved, plays straight man to the mad Rockwell and the loopy Walken. They’re McDonagh veterans, as are, in smaller roles, Michael Stuhlbarg and Zeljko Ivanek, and with dialogue this whacked out who can blame them? But McDonagh saves his best yarn for Tom Waits as a bunny-caressing killer with a broken heart.
“You’re the one who thought psychopaths were so interesting,” Hans scolds Marty. “They get sort of tiresome after a while, don’t you think?”
They do, and maybe McDonagh will get these behandings and decapitations out of his system once and for all.