Monday, April 29, 2013

DVD of the Week: Seven Psychopaths

Expectation is a funny thing. When I say Martin McDonagh's last film, In Bruges, I didn't really have high expectations for it other than I'd vaguely heard it was alright. Its picked up quite a following since, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to reveal that I was pretty awestruck by it - a witty and dark character-piece masquerading as a crime thriller, anchored by top-notch performances from Colin Farrell, Brendon Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. Cracking stuff. So when McDonagh's new film came out, expectation was high, especially when it has the excellent title of Seven Psychopaths. And with crushing inevitably, it is slightly disappointing.

What undoes Seven Psychopaths is the same thing that makes it interesting. Where In Bruges was tight and focused, it's successor is sprawling and ill-disciplined, determined to have it's cake, and eat it too, to be a film that succeeds as a violent crime thriller whilst commenting and critiquing them. It tells you what its about to do, does it, and then comments on what it's just done. It desperately wants to be very clever indeed, and almost, almost, is.

So, Colin Farrell's struggling screenwriter has a title for his film, and a vague idea that he wants it to be about a pacifist psychopath. His friend, Sam Rockwell, runs a dog-kidnapping scam with Christopher Walken, and they inadvertently dognap the pet of local mafia heavy Woody Harrelson. Smaller vignettes and cut-aways feature ideas from Farrell's screenplay, or stories the characters are telling, or a masked assassin making headway against Harrelson's organisation. On top of this, the characters sit around and meditate on life, death and pets.

Critically, the film is trying to comment on the genre that it is part of. Characters are constantly lampshading what they are doing; how their story is playing out and how it should end. It critiques the conventions it then goes onto use, often then going onto play them straight after pointing out how cliched that have become. A film with weak female characters points out how the crime thriller genre usually has weak female characters, for instance, which is a pretty bold thing to even try.

The thing is that it does mostly work. It's helped by the fact that cast is fantastic, and pulls out some great work to keep the story grounded. The script is as sharp and as funny as you'd expect, with a lot of good gags that make me laugh out loud as the film ploughs along. It is, in fairness to it, a good film. But I do think it doesn't quite hit all it's marks, and despite a lot of chutzpah in it's setup and plot, it doesn't quite skip away unharmed by its own critique.