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Martin McDonagh’s black comedy ‘Seven Psychopaths’ hit theaters Friday, October 14, 2012, and will compete with ‘Taken 2’, ‘Frankenweenie’, ‘Argo’, and ‘Sinister.’ It has a unique spot at the box office with its impressive cast and offbeat sense of humor. While ‘Psychopaths’ is certainly the delightful black sheep of the October movie spread, it may leave the audience feeling somewhat disappointed.
‘Seven Psychopaths’ takes place in Los Angeles and centers around a group of friends. The first is Marty (Colin Ferrell), a struggling alcoholic screenwriter. He is currently working on a screenplay entitled ‘Seven Psychopaths’ and needs to have it finished soon to give to his agent. However, Marty has a huge dose of Writer’s Block and cannot focus on the story for more than a few hours a day. Meanwhile, his friends Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) run a dog kidnapping business. They find rich clients out walking their dogs, snatch them up, and then turn the dogs in after the owners post rewards for them. Billy does it for easy money while Hans does it to pay for treatment for his hospital-bound wife.
Billy unfortunately kidnaps Bonnie, the dog owned by an unstable mobster named Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Charlie sends his men out into the city and they quickly find Hans and Marty. Hans and Marty are rescued by the mysterious Jack of Diamonds serial killer and narrowly escape. Charlie tracks down Hans’ wife and kills her when she doesn’t give up the location of her husband or the dog. After Hans, Marty, and Billy find out that Charlie means business, it is a race to get out of town before he guns them down over his precious little shih tzu.
‘Seven Psychopaths’ has two points that make it a strong film: the cast and the writing. First, the cast is by far one of the most colorful and well picked in this year’s selection of movies. The standout performance goes to Walken, who nails every single line flawlessly. However, it is not just his comedic timing that sets him apart from the others. Hans’ storyline is the only one that is taken seriously at all times and is deeply tragic from start to finish. His backstory is chilling and impressive, giving the black comedy all the darkness it can handle. His persona is softened by the presence of his lovely wife, who easily steals the audience’s heart within five minutes of meeting her. The movie’s trailer would not lead one to believe that there would be an emotional connection with this wacky trio of friends, but it is a welcome sight in the middle of all the gore.
Harrelson is also in top form with his erratic, cruel role as Charlie, who is unbalanced in every sense of the word. His obsession with his dog Bonnie is hysterical, but his coldblooded nature sobers some of the laughs with absolute precision. There are many times in the film where one is trying to decide whether to chuckle or gasp in horror at something Charlie does. It is definitely one of Harrelson’s best roles in recent history and he nails the part.
The writing for the first and second acts is superb. The film openly mocks itself, examines its flaws, and parodies certain archetypes and clichés in action flicks. Marty is an excellent example of an upcoming writer trying to understand the process of writing and learning what works and what does not. Billy appears to represent the ignorant side of the writing world that thinks he knows what people want. Hans appears to represent the seasoned writers who take their time with themes and understand the sacrifices necessary to achieve them. It was a brilliant decision to have these three men interact and embody the warring parts that make up screenwriters and filmmakers.
However, the writing is also the movie’s biggest flaw. The third act is the weakest part of ‘Seven Psychopaths’ because things start to deteriorate. The dialogue is sloppy, unfocused, and sometimes unnecessary. There are several actions carried out by Marty and Hans that simply do not make sense in the context of the movie or in the context of their characters. They each show massive potential but neither of them fulfill it by the film’s end. Hans’ fate is especially disappointing since he is by far the best character of the bunch.
Additionally, there are a lot of predictable events in the film, despite its focus on chaotic comedy. Many events can be seen coming either due to an overabundance of foreshadowing, such as the identity of the Jack of Diamonds killer, or because of the nature of the black comedy genre. In majority of black comedies, most of the main characters die and ‘Seven Psychopaths’ is no different.
Overall, ‘Psychopaths’ has a likable tartness to it that fans of black comedies will enjoy, but ultimately, it does not live up to its potential. Still, if you like Quentin Tarantino-esque dialogue, egregious violence, or Christopher Walken, give it a shot.