Num­ber cruncher

De­spite its flaws, Martin Mcdonagh’s funny post-mod­ern fol­low-up to In Bruges sug­gests he’s here to stay, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

SEVEN PSY­CHOPATHS ★★★ Di­rected by Martin McDonagh. Star­ring Colin Far­rell, Sam Rock­well, Woody Har­rel­son, Christo­pher Walken, Tom Waits, Ab­bie Cornish, Zeljko Ivanek, Gabourey Sidibe, Michael Pitt 16 cert, gen­eral re­lease, 110 min You have to worry a lit­tle when a movie looks to be mak­ing post­mod­ern ex­cuses for it­self. Martin McDonagh’s hec­tic, very funny fol­low-up to In Bruges con­cerns a Hol­ly­wood scriptwriter (granted all the boozy clichés) who is fail­ing to com­pose a screen­play named, yes, Seven Psy­chopaths.

At var­i­ous points in the pic­ture, we stop to con­sider what is wrong with the hero’s ver­sion of Seven Psy­chopaths and, in­evitably, find our­selves pon­der­ing is­sues con­cern­ing McDonagh’s ver­sion of the story. Are the fe­male characters un­der­de­vel­oped? Per­haps. But that is the case with many main­stream pro­duc­tions, and McDonagh’s film is, among other things, a com­ment on malaises of mod­ern cin­ema.

At no stage does any char­ac­ter glance along­side the main prob­lem with the real film. Af­ter a crack­ing open­ing hour that jumps and starts with great in­ven­tion, McDonagh’s characters leave LA and drift into a much less in­ter­est­ing, much less self-con­scious pic­ture. End­ing as an ac­ci­den­tal take on Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra – com­plete with ca­nine side­kick – Seven Psy­chopaths comes across as a pic­ture with in­suf­fi­cient oil in its tank.

That fine be­gin­ning bears favourable com­par­i­son with sim­i­larly play­ful scripts by Char­lie Kauf­man. Marty Faranan (Colin Far­rell) lives un­hap­pily in a glossy, sun-bleached cor­ner of Los An­ge­les. He is strug­gling hard with Seven Psy­chopaths, but can’t quite get any proper pur­chase on the project. Given the colour­ful penumbra of ma­ni­acs that sur­round Marty, it’s faintly sur­pris­ing that he has even found time to de­vise the ex­cel­lent ti­tle.

Marty’s best pal, Billy (Sam Rock­well), is sup­port­ive, but slowly emerges as suf­fi­ciently dan­ger­ous to se­cure a place in the script (which, in a sense, he does). Else­where, an un­touch­ably ur­bane Christo­pher Walken con­spires with Billy in a plot to steal dogs and flog them back to their des­per­ate own­ers. Per­haps in­evitably, they end up fall­ing foul of a com­i­cally vi­o­lent gang­ster (the ag­gres­sive ver­sion of Woody Har­rel­son) and find their un­easy equi­lib­rium shat­tered.

It is hard to avoid com­par­isons with Pulp Fic­tion. In Bruges, even­tu­ally a cult hit, was, like Tarantino’s Reser­voir Dogs, a dis­ci­plined, tight af­fair fea­tur­ing in­dul­gent slabs of gorgeously quotable di­a­logue. Both di­rec­tor’s sec­ond films ex­panded the scope and nar­ra­tive com­plex­ity.

McDonagh has found the characters and the ac­tors to ex­ploit his larger pal­ette. Walken has rarely been bet­ter (and that’s say­ing some­thing). His care­fully spo­ken sage has a mild hint of mad­ness about him, but – decked out in a smash­ing cra­vat – he is also al­lowed mo­ments of gen­uine poignancy. Rock­well man­ages to be both charm­ing and trou­bling in the course of the same sen­tence. Far­rell again demon­strates that his nat­u­ral mi­lieu is weird pulp rather than lum­ber­ing block­buster. Tom Waits does what he does.

At times, the gal­lop­ing ab­sur­dity drifts into off-the-peg com­edy gang­ster cliché. But McDonagh’s bril­liant way with one-lin­ers al­ways claws back enough ground to sti­fle any groans. We ap­pear to be watch­ing a play­wright work­ing hard to prove that he un­der­stands the mean­ing of the word “cin­e­matic”.

Then, sadly, the film starts to wind down to­wards its oddly low-key, some­what hur­ried de­noue­ment. The last act might, per­haps, have worked bet­ter as part of a more con­ven­tional film. As things stand, we are left with a some­what bro­ken-backed en­ter­prise.

Seven Psy­chopaths is, how­ever, more than tasty enough to per­suade us to look for­ward to McDonagh’s next piece with ea­ger en­thu­si­asm. He’s here to stay.

Seven Psy­chopaths

Glib and die in LA: Far­rell, Walken and Rock­well in

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