There are moments through Seven Psychopaths where convention, normality and a traditional structure seem to make a fleeting appearance. Whether they turn up on purpose, or in some kind of narrative drive-by is unclear though, as for the bulk of the film’s running time, Seven Psychopaths is an unpredictable, funny, occasionally faltering but regularly excellent piece of cinema.
It’s the second feature from In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, but go in expecting a sequel to his modern-day classic, and you’re going to come home short changed. Whereas In Bruges was a tight, focussed three-hander, Seven Psychopaths has characters drift in and out, with a narrative that feels free to take detours as and when McDonagh desires. He desires this often. This works brilliantly later on in the film, when the dependably-brilliant Sam Rockwell gets the spotlight firmly shined in his face. In a cast not short of talent – we’re coming to that later – Rockwell’s ability to steal scenes seemingly effortlessly is something to cherish. One particular scene, which we’re not going to spoil, needs some selling to work. Rockwell is more than up to the job.
Let’s go backwards, though. The story, as such, of Seven Psychopaths is centred around Colin Farrell’s struggling screenwriter, who’s desperately trying to put together a new script. That script, the Seven Psychopaths of the title, is basically a framework for McDonagh to pull apart movie clichés, to effectively derail his own film to an extent that draws inevitable comparisons with something like the wonderful Adaptation.
Seven Psychopaths isn’t up to Adaptation’s standards, mind, but it does have plenty to it worthy of recommendation. The aforementioned cast, in particular, are clearly having a ball. Christopher Walken enjoys his best screen role in years here, running a scam where he kidnaps dogs, then claims the reward for finding them. That puts him into the world of gangster Charlie, played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson’s contribution here is easy to understate, but he plays the role superbly too. In particular, a scene set in a hospital room is undercut wonderfully with tension, and its marked contrast to the comedy elsewhere gives some idea as to how much Seven Psychopaths‘ tone shifts around.
The supporting cast also finds roles for Harry Dean Stanton, Abbie Cornish, Tom Waits and Olga Kurylenko, and McDonagh squeezes in good moments for pretty much all of them.
What he hasn’t crafted, though, is a cohesive whole. Arguably, he never intended to. Instead, he’s given us a movie about moments. Lots and lots of moments. Frequently extremely funny, and rarely letting you settle before heading off into another direction, there’s a degree of cop out in declaring it a divisive film. Yet there’s no way around it: that’s what it clearly is. The screening we attended had as many people complaining about it as those keen to chatter about its standout moments, and it’s hard not to see that reflected elsewhere. The moments where its proverbial foot hits the floor, and particularly as it heads into the final third, are where the real treasure lies, though.
Seven Psychopaths isn’t going to enjoy the near-unanimous ongoing praise that In Bruges (rightly) deserves. But McDonagh’s second film is still a treat, albeit a smaller, messier one than his debut.
Seven Psychopaths is out now in the UK.
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