Seven Psychopaths is a superbly unusual film. Dark, despite the bright lights of Hollywood, hilarious in the face of massive cruelty and violence, it strikes a fine line between comedy and tragedy in a very similar manner to films like In Bruges and The Guard.
No surprise then that its writer director, Martin McDonagh, was also responsible for the In Bruges script and his brother, John Michael, wrote The Guard.
It is, on the surface, a Tarantino-esque gangster flick about a violent gangster, Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), whose beloved dog is taken by a couple of small time dog-nappers, Billy and Hans (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken).
Thrown into the middle of this mess is Billy’s best mate, screenwriter, Marty (Colin Farrell), who is battling his love of the bottle and writer’s block and knows nothing about his friend’s somewhat unorthodox money-making schemes.
Oh, and there’s a killer stalking the Hollywood hills targeting mobsters, gangsters and anyone else of a criminal bent.
What distinguishes Seven Psychopaths from other eclectic crime schtick is the detail McDonagh goes into with his characters and the performances he illicits from a universally excellent and entertaining cast.
While the absence of clear “baddies” and “goodies” is far from new, the constantly shifting sand of where the audience’s sympathy and support lies is as engaging as the story’s many twists and turns.
If the devil is in the details then Satan must love this film because there are details – both diabolical and otherwise – aplenty.
From an extended cameo by Tom Waits, as a madman with a rabbit fetish, to a running gag about the American character’s blasé attitude to murder and mayhem but their aunty-ish tutting over Marty’s drinking, there’s meat on the moments that other films might fill with exposition and nothing more.
As the put-upon jackass writer, Farrell does an excellent job of being both the most accessible, least crazy character in the film without coming across as bland. Woody Harrelson does a similarly solid job with his nutcase crime boss. Neither stray too far from the box they are first presented in but neither seem like cookie-cutter characters just there to hold up the scenery.
Where the real brilliance lies, however, is when Rockwell or Walken are on screen. Both actors already have degrees, masters and PhDs from the University of Oddball Acting but Seven Psychopaths allows them both to take their powers to whole new levels.
In any other film, in any other hands, Billy may have been the dumb chump bff for Farrell and his hunky eyebrows. Instead, Rockwell blends quirkiness with downright madness perfectly to make Billy feel like the friend you’d love someone else to have, just so you could hear stories about him without ever having to spend too much time with him.
Walken, meanwhile, shows unusual restraint in his portrayal of Hans, allowing few of his trademark tics to bleed into the character. There’s just enough to keep him off-centre but not enough to make it feel like he’s doing a bad impression of himself for a late-night cabaret show in Vegas.
It may not be to everyone’s taste – dark comedies, the good ones anyway, seldom are – but Seven Psychopaths has to at least be respected for the depth and density of its writing. Oh and it’s hilarious. At times laugh-out-loud hilarious.
It’s a crazy story filled with maniacs who are nothing short of “mad, bad and dangerous to know” but if you’ve ever wanted to see what Tarantino’s brain would look like through the eyes of an Irish psychiatric patient, then this is very much the film for you.