There have been many movies about writer’s block. Screenwriters love to write about the affliction that affects everyone who puts fingers to keyboard for a living. So Martin McDonagh, the writer director of “Seven Psychopaths,” isn’t treading new ground here, but he does it entertainingly and with way more guns than you usually find in movies about writers.
Colin Farrell is Marty, an alcoholic screenwriter whose mental state hovers somewhere between depression and suicide. Blocked, he can’t seem to get past the title of his latest screenplay, “Seven Psychopaths.” Trying to pull him out of his funk, his (not always) helpful friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) places an ad in the newspaper asking for certified psychopaths to contact Marty. In exchange for their stories, he might make them famous in the movie. Meantime Billy is working a side job with Hans (Christopher Walken), stealing dogs only to “rescue” them for the reward money. The scheme puts all of them in contact with Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a sensitive psychopath who cries at the thought of his lost dog, but doesn’t mind killing people to get it returned.
As you might imagine from a movie titled “Seven Psychopaths,” there is a great deal of antisocial behavior on display. It’s occasionally gruesome—heads are detached from their bodies, throats are cut—but it is the performance style that you’ll notice. Rockwell has rarely been this twitchy, but it mostly works, and Farrell and Harrelson bring considerable charisma to their roles, but it is Walken who is memorable.
Everybody loves Walken, and there’s no denying he fills the screen, but his idiosyncratic vocal mannerisms are so exaggerated here it’s almost as if you are watching someone do an impression of the actor, rather than the real thing. He’s entertaining, but his performance here is just inches away from self-parody.
In a way that’s appropriate for a film that is so inward looking. McDonagh has taken all the bits and pieces of thriller and turned them on their heads. Early on Marty says he doesn’t want his screenplay to be “about guys with guns in their hands,” sending an indication that the film-idea-within-the-film may be telegraphing the action (or lack thereof) that we’re about to see.
The film subverts its own story to make ironic comments on the collaborative nature of filmmaking when not all the creative agree on the story’s direction, plot structure and role of women in action movies, (“You can’t let the animals die in movies, just the women.”). It almost works except that the cleverness of the idea—making an anti-movie—feels a bit labored in the final third of the film.
“Seven Psychopaths” gets lost in its own idea, but only temporarily. What’s left is solid fun.