The balancing act performed by “Seven Psychopaths” is astounding—a topsy-turvy, delightfully twisted narrative that is constantly challenging the audience’s expectations and turning them on their heads. It is the only film—of this year or any year—that manages to graciously transition from a scene of absurdly excessive violence to a close-up of the most adorable Shih Tzu you may ever see.
It’s a film where gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson) is pressed up against a window, crying about that same Shih Tzu—a precious ball of fluff named Bonny—just moments after viciously murdering a woman in cold blood.
“The guy’s a fucking psychopath!” you might say, and so does Costello at one point in the film. Not about himself, but rather the screwy personality of Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), a captivating head case who kidnaps Bonny as part of his “dog borrowing” business with his partner Hans (Christopher Walken)—a shifty scam where dogs are stolen then returned to their owners days later in exchange for a cash reward.
But Billy the psychopath stole the wrong dog from the wrong psychopath, with Costello doing everything within his extremely deranged moral code to get his beloved pooch back.
Getting caught up in the whole affair is screenwriter Martin Freeman (Colin Farrell), who is struggling with a screenplay called “Seven Psychopaths” itself—hitting the booze frequently in writer’s frustration, and constantly being criticized by the brutal killers, kidnappers, and psychos that surround him. But hey, maybe he’ll receive some inspiration for the script while trying his hardest not to be viciously murdered by a puppy-loving madman.
What I’ve described is but an iota of the genius that flows generously throughout “Seven Psychopaths” from start to finish. Perversely funny and brilliantly insane, the movie chooses paths that you wouldn’t expect it to take—it is a film where every second holds an opportunity to surprise you.
The second film from writer/director Martin McDonagh, whose 2008 film “In Bruges” is an understated masterpiece of the past decade, “Seven Psychopaths” is the lesser film but only by nitpicky smidgeons.
It’s equally as fun, if not more so, but lacks a certain depth that is cast upon the entirety of “In Bruges.” It’s like comparing a prime rib dinner and a cheesecake—they both taste great and go well together, but you get a different flavor from each one. And Martin McDonagh, with only two films, has already proven himself as a grade-A chef.
And boy, what a cast. Harrelson’s performance is filled with crafty, crazy moments that seem to come from the wildest regions of his flair for character acting. Colin Farrell, who also appeared in “In Bruges,” is safely establishing himself as McDonagh’s muse—giving great, hilarious, drunken performances in both films.
But the MVPs here are easily Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken. Rockwell gives a career-topping performance as one of the kookiest characters I have ever seen on screen, operating on an insanity-laced combo of sidesplitting dialogue and wild, arm-flailing physical performance.
And Walken, in his unique style of deadpan and droll, carries his character on facial nuances of great humor and immense sadness. He gave a brilliant performance in a single scene of Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece “Pulp Fiction,” and “Seven Psychopaths” is his best performance since with scene upon scene of remarkable talent. It may very well go down as one of the best roles the actor ever took on and knocked out of the park.
And hitting a home run is a feat not only executed by Walken, but the entire film itself. I can’t think of any single moment I didn’t enjoy, even though some feel slightly out-of-place, but the movie is so riotously entertaining that its minor flaws are essentially moot. It’s a film with style, smarts, and endless inventiveness—unlike anything you have ever seen, and likely may not ever see again. These “Seven Psychopaths” are one-of-a-kind.
Greg Vellante is a film critic for The Eagle Tribune.