TIFF 2012 – Seven Psychopaths Review (Matt Hodgson)

2012 Toronto International Film Festival

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Starring Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, and Christopher Walken

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Note: I had some concerns during Dredd 3D regarding the large number of seats (225 or so) that had been reserved for VIPs and therefore were withheld from paying customers, but I was happy to see that the higher profile Seven Psychopaths screening had about half that amount reserved. This seemed much more reasonable and respectful to ticket holders.

Last night I was back in line for the second of ten straight nights at the Ryerson theatre for Midnight Madness (MM), the Toronto International Film Festival’s midnight program, which has historically featured some of the most frightening and action-action packed movies currently making the festival circuit rounds. MM is in the business of premiering movies these days, and the first night was no exception. Dredd 3d (previously screened at San Diego Comic Con) started the madness, and definitely delivered plenty of action that gorehounds will lap up. Also, I’m sure MM will fill the horror quota in no time (tonight’s No One Lives perhaps). However, Midnight Madness is not just about the scares and the thrills; every now and then we get a dark comedy. And occassionally the Midnight Madness crowd keep some A-list celebrities up until the wee hours of the morning. Last night was such an occasion, as Martin McDonagh’s new film, Seven Psychopaths, screened with nearly the whole cast in tow. If you’re familiar with McDonagh’s last film, In Bruges, and you’ve heard of Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and a little known actor named Christopher Walken, then you know why the fans were out in droves last night for Seven Psychopaths.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The movie tells the story of Marty (Farrell), a struggling screenwriter who has been working on his new project, also called Seven Psychopaths, for quite some time. He’s got the title, now he just needs all the little bits that go on the paper. To cope with the stress of writer’s block Marty has begun to hit the bottle, nightly and hard. This has lead to a number of misunderstandings between Marty and others due to Marty’s newly discovered propensity to blackout. Thanks to his drinking problem, Marty’s relationship with his girlfriend Kaya (Cornish) may be beyond salvation, but he’s still very lucky to have friend like Billy (Rockwell). When Billy isn’t working with Hans (Walken), stealing dogs then returning them for a reward, he’s trying to help Marty finish his script, maybe even co-write it with him. Unfortunately, thanks to some bad decisions from Billy, Marty finds himself in a midst of gathering of psychopaths, headlined by the blood thirsty Charlie (Harrelson). Marty might not make it out of this psychopath party alive, but on the other hand, maybe he’ll get some real life inspiration for his script. Pro or con, good situation or bad situation – it all depends on his perspective.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Seven Psychopaths is a very difficult movie to review. McDonagh really had his work cut out for him after the critical success of In Bruges. Despite Seven Psychopaths being about an entirely new cast of characters, fans (including myself) will have difficulty evaluating Psychopaths completely independently of McDonagh’s 2008 hit. There are too many similarities: killers with guns, bloody violence, snappy dialogue, and very serious human moments to occasionally ground crazy characters or ridiculous situations. Psychopaths suffers from some inconsistent plotting and dialogue. It opens with a very entertaining Tarantino-like dialogue scene regarding the shooting of eyeballs, but there aren’t many other occasions where the dialogue reaches this high level. Also, the central plot involving the completion of Marty’s script seems anything but important. This zany cast of characters could have found themselves together for any number of reasons and it could have happened with minimal changes to the script. The way it is, it’s really hard to buy into Marty’s writing dilemma when the completion of his script seems like a secondary problem or a side-story at best. Finally, a legitimate side-story about a Vietnamese Psycho may be interesting, but feels incredibly disjointed when viewed in the context of the entire film. Fortunately, the characters and performances are quite good and provide plenty of entertainment throughout the movie.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

If you’re a Colin Farrell fan, then you will probably like him in Psychopaths. Ditto for Walken. However, the real standout of Seven Psychopaths is the absolutely scene stealing performance turned in by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell’s Billy should be absolutely despicable given that he is nothing but a dog thief, amongst other things, but Rockwell gives the character a charisma that the rest of the cast just can’t match. Rockwell has already proven himself to be a very good actor (Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), but after this standout performance in Psychopaths I expect Rockwell’s star to continue to rise. Harrelson also deserves mention as his near-heartless villain with a soft spot for his little Shih Tzu is equally parts unnerving and funny.

I feel quite strongly that the uneven writing in Seven Psychopaths prevented it from being a great movie, but luckily the performances within are quite entertaining, particularly Rockwell’s. It may not be the next In Bruges, but Seven Psychopaths may be worth checking out for fans of dark comedies.

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