Saturday, 29 December 2012

I rewatched In Bruges on TV recently, and it’s bloody brilliant. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as a pair of hitmen in hiding in the titular Belgian city, it’s a funny, moving comedy thriller with a simple but strong concept and well-developed characters and plots which come together very nicely. In fact, it's one of my favourite films of recent years. 

Seven Psychopaths is the latest effort from its writer-director Martin McDonagh. Colin Farrell stars once again, this time as screenwriter Marty Faranan, a writer working on a screenplay entitled Seven Psychopaths (I wonder where McDonagh got this character from...). Marty, struggling and alcoholic, takes inspiration from the real psychopaths around him and soon becomes more involved in the violent world of mafia shootouts and dog kidnapping than he would have liked. Bring in Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, et al. 

Marty’s a nice central character – he doesn’t want to be involved directly in the psychopathic violence, but, as a screenwriter, is fascinated by it – as are the audience, as Colin Farrell gives a likable performance and leads us through the chaos that unfolds. There’s a host of other interesting characters, though I left with the feeling that some were too over-the-top, such as Sam Rockwell’s manic actor/madman Billy Bickle, and that some could have been made more distinct, such as Woody Harrelson’s dog-loving mafia boss Charlie Costello. Drawing out Charlie's dialogue to be more tense and unpredictable, particularly in scenes such as his interrogation of the employee who lost his beloved ShihTzu, could really have made him richly sinister rather than generic Mafioso. McDonagh can write brilliant villains – just look at Ralph Fiennes in In Bruges – so it’s a shame that Costello doesn’t quite hit the mark. The great Christopher Walken, meanwhile, is one of the film's highlights as Hans Kieslowski, a gentle dognapper with a mysterious past and a stylish cravat.

As would be hoped for from McDonagh, the film contains moments of violent dramatic genius. The opening scene is one that’ll stick in the mind, as is the story Marty tells about a Quaker psychopath. However, the plot as a whole is overly complex, and I got the impression that certain plot points exist only to fit the film’s postmodern “it’s a film about film that knows it’s a film” gag. The characters often remark on the connection between what is happening to them and the script Marty is writing, as if they know they are in a film. “Maybe the second half of the film should be just the characters driving away and talking, without any shootouts” suggests Marty, as he drives away with Billy and Hans to spend a good amount of the film talking. About how Billy thinks it’s an awful idea for a film. Which is like the film we’re watching. So it’s funny. For a bit. No, actually, it gets bloody tiresome. Despite the occasional laugh, the plot would work well with half as much of this sub-par Charlie Kaufman imitation. By the end, I was ready to walk out if Sam Rockwell said “final showdown” one more time. 

Don’t get me wrong, Seven Psychopaths is, when not at its most annoyingly meta, enjoyable and energetically watchable. The problem is, and I’m sorry if I’ve overused this comparison, it isn’t a patch on Martin McDonagh’s previous film. The characters are neither as interesting nor as believable, and the story is messily assembled compared to In Bruges’ simple, well-strung together concept. If you need your fix of Colin Farrell and comic violence, seek out In Bruges and hope McDonagh’s next film is back to its high standards.


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