Surprise hit In Bruges was not going to be an easy follow-up. And some may rue that after a four-year wait writer/director Martin McDonagh has gone the “guys with guns” route once more for his second feature.
But, the Oscar-winner spins a standard LA crime story into a meta-mental slice of celluloid: a movie about making a movie that constantly reminds us we’re watching a movie, with characters discussing what should happen in the “movie” movie that naturally winds up influencing the movie we’re all watching. Kind of.
And Colin Farrell’s character is called Martin. Like the director. And the movie “movie Martin” is writing is called Seven Psychopaths. And there are lots of famous cameos.
If all this sounds like Tarantino with the smug on full wattage or a film only of interest to filmmakers, rest easy in the knowledge that “real Martin” remains a fresh, smart talent and, after The Cabin in the Woods, Seven Psychopaths is the best post-modern movie of 2012.
The plot has scriptwriter Martin lodged in a rut with the Seven Psychopaths script, and manic eager-beaver buddy Billy (Rockwell) keen to help out with tall tales.
Billy earns a living dog-napping, with pal Hans (Walken) returning the pooches to relieved owners and bagging the reward to pay for his wife’s cancer treatment. But, the wrong mutt is lifted when Billy bags the Shih-Tzu of unhinged crime boss Charlie (Harrelson).
Martin, Billy and Hans are forced on the lam and into the desert for a final showdown with the dog loving criminals…. but like life, sometimes the movies ain’t that easy.
Taking its familiar plot as a springboard, Seven Psychopaths fires its genre conventions into orbit. “Real life” and imaginary psychopath stories dazzle in a series of vignettes that McDonagh links together through confident and outrageous contrivances, while giving the cast meaty dialogue and spicy situations to chew on.
Special note here to Billy’s graveyard set pitch for the climax to Martin’s movie that not only allows the film to have its cake and messily eat it, but also contains the subtlest Die Hard joke in cinema.
What lifts all this above Tarantino-pretenders, and Quentin himself if we’re talking Kill Bill or Death Proof, is QT regular Walken, the weirdly tender heart at the centre of all this madness. A moment of underplayed grief and rage with Harrelson and a second Zen face off with Charlie’s hoods are reminders of the great man’s talent for sad-eyed emoting.
He also gets the best line: “I think I have a solution to your Vietcong psychopath conundrum”.
If you laughed at that, you’re going to get along with these bad boys just fine.