Being meta and self-referential isn’t a new tool in Hollywood. Although movies rarely “break the fourth wall” and talk to the audience, some are acutely self-aware and make reference to the trappings of film-making. In my last review I opened by talking about Tropic Thunder, which is in itself a film about making a film. You also have the Scream franchise, which became very self-referential and aware of its genre confines. Essentially: it’s not a new technique. So how does this relate to Seven Psychopaths, the follow-up to director Martin McDonagh‘s In Bruges? Read on to find out…
Although the plot kicks and bucks like an unbroken bronco, it can be broken down as a story that follows Marty (Colin Farrell) – a screenwriter struggling from writer’s block whilst penning his latest film: Seven Psychopaths. The only trouble with this screenplay? He’s not got any characters, or plot… or anything. Through talking with his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) he gradually expands his list. But Billy’s also a dog-knapper: he steals dogs with his partner Hans (Christopher Walken) in order to collect the inevitable reward that is offered by the beleaguered owner. This works out pretty well for the pair until they pick the wrong Shih Tzu to steal… that belonging to Woody Harrelson‘s Charlie, who’s quite frankly a nasty piece of work.
So therein lies the initial premise of the film, but I’d be doing a disservice to you guys if I said that was “it”. Marty’s journey to write his screenplay is extremely entertaining and not at all predictable. As I mentioned earlier, the plot is anything but predictable. The characters even talk about plot mechanics and how Marty should flaunt the dynamics of a typical thriller and mix it up. The real film (the one you’re watching) then follows suit and switches up. This film is very meta and constantly refers to itself in a none-too-cheesy or obvious way.
As loyal readers of the ‘Phage will know by now, I’m a sucker for a non-linear plot and something that really catches me off-guard. This film did that. In spades. Especially since I was pretty much unaware of this film coming to cinemas at all, spare a trailer that preceded last week’s viewing of Silver Linings Playbook. Although I found the initial opening 20 minutes difficult to immerse myself in (owing to some distracting patrons in my screen), I soon became engulfed in the film. If I wheel back to those trailers, they’d have you believe this is an out-and-out hoot – a real comedy. But this is dark. Really dark. It’s still comedic, but be prepared that this isn’t a light-hearted film about some dog-knappers mixing it up with the wrong people. This isn’t an Adam Sandler / Rob Schneider movie.
Now, the plot is fantastic, but what of the actors? We have here perhaps some of the best performances of the year. I know – a bold statement to make in a year of so many great films. Farrell seems much more at home in this type of role that he does in the other blockbusters he’s been in this year, and he’s allowed to use his Irish brogue, which is a plus. Whilst he’s great, the real honours need to go to Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken. Both are simply incredible in their respective roles. Sam Rockwell‘s Billy is incredibly well written and Rockwell‘s delivery is sublime. Although I’ve seen a lot of his filmography, I’ve never left a screening and felt that he was spectacular in his role. Seven Psychopaths changed all that. He’s funny, unpredictable and captivating. He’d be the runaway best supporting actor if it wasn’t for Christopher Walken, who is on sterling form. I can’t actually recall the last time I saw Walken in a role that wasn’t tongue-in-cheek and a bit camp. But here he’s engaging and incredibly powerful. A scene with him and Harrelson in a hospital is incredibly affecting. Can we have more of this in future please?
In case you’re unable to put 2 + 2 together, then you should be getting the impression that I really enjoyed Seven Psychopaths. After a somewhat rough opening (owing to non-film based factors) the film really got on track and constantly threw curve balls at me. I love a good twisting plot that is topped off by great acting talent. Although I’ve focused on Farrell, Rockwell and Walken, the other players here are solid. But their performances will never come close to the core three members of the cast here. It’s a very male-centric film, that much is for certain. In fact, the film within a film also mentions that detail. Whether the film is trying to be too clever for its own good is up for debate, but I felt all the meta plot mechanisms worked fluidly and in a really enjoyable way. Or maybe I’m not clever enough to realise that it’s too clever for it’s own good. Damn that’s a clever sentence.
Seven Psychopaths is a brilliant slice of film making. It’ll have its detractors who thought it was too “up itself” for its own good, but those people are probably too “up themselves” too. We’re all up something or other it would seem. How you can’t appreciate Rockwell and Walken in this film is beyond me. Both are on career-best form and this film needs to be seen for that reason alone. Come for the actors, stay for the plot.
So, you’ve had my introduction, ramblings about plot, ramblings about actors, first paragraph of sensible summary and now it’s time for the second paragraph that cleverly ties it all together, right? That’s the Film Phage way after all. That’s what we do. But I’m clearly not clever enough to flaunt my layout and the conventions of a review site. Maybe I’ll just align this paragraph to the right? Yeah, that’s edgy. That’s crazy. That’s meta. Maybe.