Thursday, October 25, 2012

Man on Film: Seven Psychopaths

Much like writer/director Martin McDonagh's last film, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths is very much an existential, comedic take on the violent criminal underworld. Unlike In Bruges, however, this is a much more reflexive film, taking the Kaufmanesque approach at writing the film on the screen from within the film on the screen. McDonagh proves to be gymnastically adept at balancing the plot with the art of screenwriting as displayed on screen, knowingly toying with the characters and the audience alike in a cheeky but charming way. Not surprisingly (at least for any of us who saw his Oscar-winning feature-length debut), Seven Psychopaths is an extremely pleasing and exceedingly funny trip through madcap shoot-'em-up the likes of the best of the Elmore Leonard adaptations.

Much like those Elmore Leonard adaptations, Seven Psychopaths is blessed with a wonderful--I'm taking back the word "wonderful," Louis C.K.--cast, and I'm not just saying that because of the fella you see to the left in an atypically (but fully intentionally) large image here. Clearly, McDonagh feels a kinship with Colin Farrell, who in this film doesn't just play the surrogate of the screenwriter but actually plays the screenwriter himself, and Farrell doesn't disappoint. It's nice to see him have moved past trying to place the Hollywood game and playing interesting characters again. As the sane, normal person who stands amidst the chaos, documenting, Farrell is great--a straight man to all the insanity transpiring around him, not only acting as a stand-in for McDonagh, but also playing a bit of the Every Man and thusly a stand-in (albeit a drunk one) for each person in the audience. Around him are the brilliant Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Tom Waits, all suitably nuts and all uniquely drawn. Walken is especially illuminating, his role one that plays against what he is typecast as in seemingly all of his other roles. It's refreshing to see Walken as a pacifist, even if he is off-kilter. There's no menace in his character, and the audience is treated to a role in which Walken is allowed to be *gasp* charming. Rockwell is Rockwell at his best, leaving one to wonder why he isn't in everything. Waits is deliciously batshit crazy, the bunny affectation a brilliant touch on [presumably] McDonagh's part. Harrelson is also great, though the role is less interesting than the three caballeros or Waits's character, whose background I do not want to spoil.

For its colorful cast of characters, the script is pretty damn smart, weaving subplots in and out of the narrative with an ease and dexterity that is hard not to marvel at. The humor offsets the violence, and the film is not so in love with itself as to not take potshots at itself, such as its hammering of Marty for not writing any female characters of any import. When all is said and done, you are left with a grin on your face and a desire to sit through the credits to see if there are any messages to strong hippie killing women.

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