December 2, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 39°F


Review: ‘Seven Psychopaths’ takes violent twist toward comedy

Writer and director Martin McDonagh has crafted a mercurial film with “Seven Psychopaths.” The film displays elements of action, comedy, horror and tragedy, yet its nature ambitiously seeks to break Hollywood forms and clichés by blending cinema fantasy with a reflection on reality. “Seven Psychopaths” offers a fun ride with a great cast and strange story.

The film focuses on the friendship between screenplay writer Marty (Colin Farrell) and dog kidnapper Billy (Sam Rockwell). Billy works with his partner, Hans (Christopher Walken), kidnapping dogs and returning them to their rightful owners for cash rewards. But when they steal a Shih Tzu named Bonnie owned by angry, murderous crime lord Charlie (Woody Harrelson), Billy, Marty and Hans become Charlie’s next targets.

While “Seven Psychopaths” may entertain with its wild cast and twisting plotline, the substance of the film centers on its analysis of violence. The whole film is a motif surrounding violence, both its depiction within Hollywood and its real-life consequences. Through trying to help Marty write his script or figuring out how to deal with Charlie hunting them, the characters argue about violence from different viewpoints.

Messages about violence permeate the movie but rarely feel heavy-handed. When Hans says, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” Billy replies, “No, it doesn’t. There’ll be one guy left with one eye. How’s the last blind guy gonna take out the eye of the last guy left?” Whether someone sees this exchange as an argument about violence or a comic exchange, it still drives the film by fleshing out the characters involved.

“Seven Psychopaths” benefits from the clever writing. The story winds in strange and entertaining directions, combining the insanity of the characters’ lives with Marty’s script. In addition, the dialogue among the characters is also funny, especially Billy’s naive and simplistic views on the world. Conversations about Marty’s script easily represent analysis of action and violence within cinema. Lines such as Hans’ angry proclamation that psychos can get boring after awhile allow the humor to carry the film’s intellectual argument.

“Seven Psychopaths” works with an outstanding cast. Not only does every actor deliver a solid performance, but each character also holds an acute and definitive personality. Rockwell steals the show with brilliant expression and strong comedic timing. Rockwell is at his best when he narrates and demonstrates the epic final shootout he suggests to end Marty’s screenplay. Harrelson is always a treat to watch as the disgruntled loose cannon with a gun. His moody and intimidating performance is reminiscent of his quotable role in 2009’s “Zombieland,” albeit with a more violent edge suitable for “Seven Psychopaths’” R rating. Additionally, the unconventional Christopher Walken brings depth to his performance as Hans, especially when tragedy pops up from his past and haunts him in the present.

McDonagh accomplishes this detailed characterization by combining distinctly opposing traits within each role. Marty is tasked with writing a script about violent psychopaths but constantly tries turning away from such violence. For example, when listing the psycho characters, he tries to write one of the characters as a Buddhist psycho. Hans often appears disconnected from reality but frequently shows the most humanity, and while Charlie shows no empathy toward the people he kills, he shows tender love and care towards his precious little Bonnie. These polarized traits within the characters breathe life into them while tying together the movie’s themes of unconventionality and breaking traditional molds.

“Seven Psychopaths” is a refreshing film for adult audiences with its comedic but well-crafted exploration of a fundamental but difficult subject matter.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson star in this violent comedy.