Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

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…

Writer's block... it's a bitch.

Writer’s block… it’s a bitch.

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.

Seven Psychopaths (2012)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?

Farrell, Rockwell and Walken: the perfect storm.

Farrell, Rockwell and Walken: the perfect storm.

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.

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

Total Recall (2012)

Forget me not.

We’ve so often been told what the future’s going to look like that I’m beginning to think it’s going to be pretty boring when I first get in my flying car. I’ll have seen everything there is to do in one by then. And I’m still waiting on the hoverboard that Back To The Future promised me would arrive this year. One thing I’ve yet to see in the future is a device for implanting memories into my head, so this is exciting. Total Recall , set in that familiar future that looks a bit like Tokyo at night time tells me it could go horribly wrong though. Damn!

Name sound as familiar as the setting? Yes, this is the big-budget reboot of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. This is a movie much beloved by many… but me? I’ve never seen it. OK, lambast me all you like, but as I said in my Expendables 2 review, I was never really a fan of movies from that era. That and I was a bit young at the time to care too much. Does this influence my review? Well, it may do, as I can look at this movie objectively with a clean slate and not be sucked into the Reboot Zone debate (again and again)

Colin Farrell couldn’t ever hope to replicate Arnie’s not at all over-the-top facial expression…

This incarnation of Total Recall takes place in the late 21st Century where us Brits have seemingly survived a toxic holocaust to create the United Federation of Britain (UFB), and through some amazing feat of engineering, have linked ourselves with Australia (called “The Colony”) by drilling through the middle of the Earth. The Colony is essentially the ghetto of the UFB. A bit like Australia is the UK’s poor cousin… with beaches… and surfer girls and guys… and better weather. Damn. The plot revolves around Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) – a drone of The Colony who’s fed up with his hum-drum life. So he goes to Rekall – a memory creation company to spice things up by getting some espionage memories implanted. And naturally, things go wrong and he finds himself on the run from the Government. Cue a spy story with lots of twists and turns.

It may sound a bit confusing, but the film copes with the plot’s convulsions well. What’s more confusing is why in future Britain and Australia no-one speaks with a British or Australian accent. Seemingly, in less than 100 years, we’re all going to speak with a US accent. Even the Irish Colin Farrell and British Kate Beckinsale lose their native tongue. But we are not to reason why…

“Fess up Farrell!! Where the HELL have you hidden all the British, Irish and Australian people?! And stop with that fake yankee accent will ya?!”

Visually, the film is a treat for the eyes. I know the future will be dark and neon-tinged, but these future countries look like Tokyo… on smack. A true cyber-punk sheen has been applied ala Bladerunner, or if you’re into video games, Deus Ex. The only gripe I have with the visuals is Len Wiseman‘s (director) obsession with screen flares. These are digitally generated, fake lens flares. They’re done ad nauseum and I have no idea what they accomplish. Some would argue “to look nice”, but by flare 15, at ten minutes into the film, I was over them. I’m also not entirely sure what to make of a scene where we see Farrell drop into the London we’re all familiar with, complete with wheeled cars that look remarkably 2012… If someone could chime in in the comments and clarify it, that’d be grand.

Get used to that facial expression. There’s a lot of it!

What of the acting? No real complaints here. Farrell is a bankable actor in an action film. The genre doesn’t really require an actor to run the gamut of emotions over a film’s running time. Similarly, Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are serviceable in their roles. There’s nothing outstanding about either, and Beckinsale‘s heavily made-up eyes in “mean girl stare” mode got old pretty fast. Although she comes across as a fine action woman (and who wouldn’t after three unnecessary Underworld sequels), you can’t help but feel she’s becoming a very one-dimensional actress, much in the same way as Mila Jovovich. And both of their husbands direct the money-making franchises in which they star… A coincidence or correlation?

And finally… what of my old friend, the plot? Overall: great concept. The premise, as I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve seen the trailers / the original, is that Quaid comes to question who he is. Is he an outlaw? Or is he still in fact sitting in the memory implantation machine at Rekall? Make no mistake, this is no new plot tool. Films like Vanilla Sky and eXistenZ have both employed the tactic and The Matrix opened with the premise of reality vs. illusion. But it’s done well. I found myself constantly looking out for signs to try and figure out whether he was or wasn’t in reality before the film revealed the answer.

Having said that, the final act started to feel forced and it appeared that the plot had run out of steam but was being dragged kicking and screaming to a longer run time. It’s here that the film fell down slightly for me, and no amount of lens flares could startle me into remaining alert. It finished satisfyingly enough, but that final road was an arduous one to trek.

With my inability to compare this version of Total Recall to what has gone before, I’ve got to say that I enjoyed what I saw. It’s a futuristic action / thriller – nothing more, nothing less. The first 2/3 of the film make for a great cinematic experience; albeit one with some rather one dimensional female leads. Although Farrell probably isn’t an Arnie, I don’t think that was his, or Len Wiseman‘s, intention to begin with.

However, if you’re really attached to the 1990 original, I don’t know what the film offers for you. Maybe you’d benefit from a trip to Rekall, so you can have those cherished memories dashed, or at least temporarily forgotten. And whilst you’re there can you book me in? Not to forget this version of Total Recall… it’s just that I don’t want to keep clinging to these hopes of a hoverboard popping up in the next three months.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star