I can safely say you won’t see this one coming. Not because there is an unexpected twist at the end - or some other kind of cop-out - but because the characters in this movie are so unpredictable there is really no way of knowing what direction they are pointing their gun at, or when they might pull the trigger - accidentally or otherwise. This is a richly self aware movie, where the characters are literally writing the movie on the go. In an age where most movie characters - and writers - lack freewill and subscribe to common genre conventions a script like this might appear to lack direction or cohesion. But that is not the case here; it is just rare to see a movie where the characters truly have control of the events that surround them. Writer / director Martin McDonagh has done what many writers aspire to by breathing freewill into his characters.
The movie stars Colin Farrell as Marty Faranan, an alcoholic Irish screenwriter who has a great title for a screenplay - Seven Psychopaths - but no story to go along with it, or even a main character for that matter. Marty wants his film to be thoughtful, and - if possible - based in real life; his best friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), who is eager to help Marty write, would rather just see a movie that ends in a brilliant shoot out. They constantly bicker about writing conventions as a series of surreal situations unravel around them.
You see, there is an active serial killer working in Los Angeles called the Jack of Diamonds. We meet this “Jack” in the opening sequence when he wipes out a pair of mobsters arguing over a murder. After hearing about the Jack of Diamonds in the newspaper, Billy decides to help out Marty write his script by placing a classified ad asking psychopaths in LA to volunteer for interviews.
When he is not helping Marty in overcoming his writer’s block, Billy spends his days kidnapping dogs in Park La Brea. Billy’s dognapping partner is Hans (Christopher Walken), an old school christian with a hidden past and an odd scar on his neck. One day Billy and Hans nab the wrong dog when they take Bonny, an adorable Shih Tzu that belongs to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a cold blood killer who’s only joy in life is his beloved Bonny.
Unbeknown to him, Marty - the alcoholic screenwriter - has a whole load of psychopaths heading his way. A lot of the events take place for real, a lot of them take place in Marty’s script, some take place in Billy’s take on what Marty’s script should be like, some are flashbacks of the actual psychopaths whom we are following, some of them are exaggerated stories by the psychopaths during the interviews, and some just seem to take place in all places at once. Not surprisingly, Marty ends up writing the movie he was just in. We, as the audience, just tag along for the ride.
Seven Psychopaths is less heavy handed McDonagh’s last film, In Bruges but it is just as brilliant a dark comedy as that one. And once again the Colin Farrell, and the whole cast, is at the top of his game.
I do feel obligated to mention that the trailer and poster are somewhat misleading. Seven psychopaths does not necessarily refer to a specific set of characters in the film. Everyone is strangely psychotic here, and the number of psychopaths varies depending on who’s point of view you take. The seven in the title refers only to those in Marty’s scripts, of whom he meets only four (or five because one counts for two) in real life in addition to other psychopaths he doesn’t necessarily write into his script.