If you’ve ever seen or read anything by Martin McDonagh, you know that things never go very well for anybody in his movies or plays. The Irish writer/director tends towards darkness, violence, and general absurdity, as exaggerated (and often very mentally unstable) characters clash and the story unfolds. It’s not so much a formula as a very distinctive style, and it’s never been better than in his latest feature, Seven Psychopaths.
The set up concerns a screenwriter named Martin (played by Colin Farrell, it seems that McDonagh has a very good self-image) who has the title of a film he’s trying to write, “Seven Psychopaths,” but no idea what he’s actually going to write. His best friend, Billy (the ever-delightful Sam Rockwell) tries to help him out by placing an ad in the paper calling for psychopaths. Billy also happens to kidnap dogs with his friend Hans (Christopher Walken). When they kidnap a dog from a real-life psychopath, the line between fact and fiction blurs, and Martin is pulled into the violent world he is trying so hard to write about.
The film succeeds in that, despite the sheer amount of violence and darkness, it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen all year. Where McDonagh’s first film, 2008’s In Bruges, focused more on the darkness and less on the comedy, Seven Psychopaths does the opposite. The darkness informs on the comedy and the comedy informs on the darkness. He strikes the perfect balance, with instances like Woody Harrelson alternatively cracking jokes about fat people while holding one at gunpoint. The cast is fantastic, each actor perfectly falling into his role and creating something fantastical and realistic. The film’s only real problem lies (which it usually does with McDonagh) with the women. Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko may be on the poster, but their role in the film is as small as the poster itself. Their characters are interesting and I would have loved to find out more about them, but McDonagh never lingers on them, deciding instead to go with his psychopaths.