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Seven Psychopaths (AF)


Stars: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Waits, Gabourey Sidibe, Zeljko Ivanek, Brendan Sexton III, Kevin Corrigan

Director: Martin McDonagh

Dog-lovers beware!

Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh Hollywood debut (confirmed by the opening shot of the famous HOLLYWOOD sign) takes cynical shots at man’s best friend by having Walken, sporting a cravat and looking a tad raddled and definitely dissolute, play a criminal character given to kidnapping dogs and then claiming cash rewards when he returns the ‘found’ pooches to their grateful owners.

Walken is just one of the seven eponymous psychos who slice, dice, slug and shoot their way through the deeply black comedy whose central character Farrell (“I don’t have a drinking problem, I just like drinking") is an alcoholic Irishman trying to beat writer’s block and satisfy his nagging agent by completing his nascent psycho-laden screenplay, helped – if that’s the word – by manic out-of-work actor Rockwell.

Like so many moviemakers seeking major screen fame, McDonagh’s film seeks to ape Tarantino in its bloody excesses, paper-thin cartoon-style characters and knowing references to far better films. Happily (perhaps he has seen far, far fewer videos than former video store employee Tarantino) McDonagh largely succeeds, starting with an apparently arbitrary assassination of two hoods by the ‘Diamond Killer’ and ending in comic-dramatic goings on in the desert with Walken high on peyote, Rockwell finally displaying his less than attractive qualities and Farrell finally realising where and what he is.

McDonagh doesn’t cringe from the kind of nastiness Tarantino revels in, featuring among other excesses, graphic sawing off of a head and plenty of blood. That’s said, his narrative drive integrates these scenes into the story rather than simply showing them off, auteur-style.

And he manages to integrate his cinematic references smartly: I really enjoyed watching Rockwell talking to his mirror, Taxi Driver-style with just the right amount of self-knowledge

The complex plot features all the seven psychos in sequences of serious fantasy triggered off by Rockwell and, less often, Farrell suggesting possible psychotic candidates for the final screenplay. The advertisement in ‘L.A. Weekly’ headed ‘Calling All Psychos’ proves to be an excellent catalyst to subsequent nastiness.

Stanton turns up in a wordless role as a devout Quaker out to avenge the murder of his daughter and is seriously scary despite his lack of any dialogue. A Vietnamese priest turns burning Buddhist and Waits has his time in the spotlight. There’s even a continuing role for a white rabbit.

Best of all, perhaps, is Harrelson, sporting a beard and a bald patch. His performance as a ruthless gangster ready and happy to kill all and sundry to get his beloved kidnapped Shih Tzu back (“This dog is Patty Hearst” says Rockwell to explain its value as a hostage to Harrelson) is splendidly larger-than-life but never less than homicidally convincing in spite of the regular laughs his performance inspires.

While the women – notably Cornish, Kurylenko and Sidibe, however, barely get a look in during the testosterone-drenched proceedings – they all make their brief screen time count.

Seven Psychopaths blends bullets and bloody homicide with happily tasteless black comedy and features a gallery of knowing performances that bring McDonagh’s film to (mostly) entertaining life. No masterpiece, perhaps, but wild, witty and watchable.

Weirdly, considering its genre and USA filming, the British Film Institute awarded Seven Psychopaths lottery money.

Less weirdly perhaps, considering the tsusami of Channel-four-letter words infesting the dialogue, Channel 4 was also involved.

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Momentum. Colour by deluxe.
110 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 02 Dec 2012