Second album syndrome isn’t exclusively reserved for musicians. A lot of filmmakers suffer from the same yawning chasm vacated by that cathartic first film, which is essentially drawn from their whole life up until that point. The second film has only their last unusual year to draw from and yet Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths embraces that weirdness into this violent and funny piece of escapism. What’s presented is a black comedy, psycho killer thriller and an examination of the writing process all rolled into one.
A struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) suffering from writer’s block, inadvertently becomes a target for the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his crazy friends pet kidnapping scam (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken) unravels after snatching a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu.
McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges was always going to suffer the expectation fatigue of those fans wanting more of the same. McDonagh purposefully screws with the audience by stitching together a collage of shifting perspective, time and subjectivity of the three leads experiencing the film. As Marty (Farrell) is writing his script, he’s gleaning ideas from true crimes (from characters you may get a chance to meet along the way), drawing inspiration from and workshopping ideas from his insane friends (Rockwell & Walken) and those suggestions get projected in all their rich detail for the audience. Finally as Marty’s desperation for ideas reaches fever pitch so does his alcohol abuse and the hard lines between the reality of Marty writing the script ‘Seven Psychopaths’ and the experience of the characters blurs with the film proper – Seven Psychopaths. The mix of weird back stories for his psychopath characters (made-up or otherwise), absurdist masturbatory action movie silliness and spine tingling brutality make for an unsettlingly funny experience. Prepare though, to be surprised by the glimpses of genuine despair and darkness that inform the characters.
Colin Farrell as Marty embodies an ideal projection of the good looking and successful writer archetype with an obsessively insecure, drunkard side that makes his failings all the more hilarious and endearing. Sam Rockwell is brilliant as Billy. He’s infectiously fun as Marty’s best friend, buddy actor/writer and ‘dog-napper.’ He’s a source for some of the truly surprising highlights. And Christopher Walken’s Hans leaps out of the screen. The characteristic bizarre and wonderful delivery is contrasted with pure enduring rage of a past filled with grief. Look out for some wonderful (and bizarre) cameos from Harry Dean Stanton and a rabbit petting Tom Waits.
Seven Psychopaths is a wild ride that demands you to let go. Let go of your preconceived notions of what it should be, of your stratospheric post In Bruges expectations and experience the moment to moment of the unparalleled craziness that experimental narrative, character dexterity and into the depths of McDonagh’s necessary second album psychosis.