Review originally published September 13, 2012 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.
"Seven Psychopaths" is a treat, blending clever quips with a quirky, self-aware plot device to form a delightful entertainment stew. This violent and alternately hilarious caper is part "Adaptation," part "The Big Lebowski" - and in the best possible ways. There are rare moments you feel as though a piece of cinema was made only for you, so if you're a lover of quick dialogue and madcap situations, you'll likely feel this one came with a bow attached.
Marty (Colin Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter in Los Angeles (as if there's another kind). He's working on a project that has an absolutely killer name, "Seven Psychopaths." Unfortunately, right after the title, he's become hopelessly stuck on where the plot should go. He doesn't want it to be too violent, so he's planning a Buddhist psychopath, and he's considering just making the third act a couple of friends talking around a campfire. His best pal Billy (Sam Rockwell) considers it his duty to get Marty writing again, and he's extremely concerned with the peaceful direction the plot is headed.
Did I mention that Billy and his pal Hans (Christopher Walken) have a lucrative side business involving dog-napping? Well, sure, why wouldn't they? These canine robbers simply grab a pooch and wait for the reward sign to be posted. This plot aside was effective enough that I've installed 24/7 security for my Puggle. Okay, so you've gotten the gist, a screenwriter and a couple of grifters, now enter the bad man for optimal silliness levels.
Charlie (Woody Harrelson) is the type of gangster you often see in film, well dressed and with an attitude. He's got a crew and a propensity for violence in his decision-making process. As fate would have it, Charlie and his thugs become intertwined with Marty, Billy and Hans, which leads to plenty of laughs ... as well as buckets full of blood. Charlie doesn't like being messed with, but Billy and Hans unknowingly mess with just about everyone they come across. Anger, meet target. It's like a meet-cute, but with bullets.
Where do "Adaptation" and "The Big Lebowski" figure in? Writer/director Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges") has put together a film full of self-referential moments. For instance, Hans (Walken) will opine about what makes a great script or story, often in direct correlation with the action concurrently transpiring on-screen. Marty's neurosis around writing scripts plays out in the actual script ... as he's writing the fake script. In other words, the joke is the joke inside the joke, to the point where your laughter is as nervous as it is authentic. It's one of those times where you're so off-kilter in a film that you're grateful, because it's clear there's no good way to end the proceedings, or even to keep up any semblance of momentum.
Yet, "Seven Psychopaths" does keep the pedal to the metal, channeling Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" dance in rising far above its intended station, leaving logic gasping far behind. It's a beautiful thing.
If you liked "In Bruges," you should have a wonderful time here too. "Seven Psychopaths" is a lively effort, refusing to bend to any sort of narrative expectations. Which makes it just about perfect, especially if your intended goal is comedy and bemusement. What I'm getting at is this: if you've got mirth on the mind, look no further. "Seven Psychopaths" delivers with style.