Friday, October 19, 2012

Seven Psychopaths [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert -

Seven Psychopaths (written and directed by Martin McDonagh) is certainly a strange and often violent movie (the R rating is definitely deserved).  Yet it is often very funny as well as poignant and pointed.  I'd characterize the film as partly Quentin Tarentino's Pulp Fiction [1994] meets the Coen brothers' Big Lebowski [1998] but also reflecting some of the "over the pond" exasperations with "America" perhaps best expressed in my mind by Jon Ronson (who, like McDonagh comes from Britain and who is perhaps most famous for his book/movie The Men Who Stare at Goats [2009] but one who even wrote a recent bestselling book called The Psychopath Test (2012)]).

As such, the principal protagonist in McDonagh's film set in and around Los Angeles is Marty (played by Colin Farrell) a transplant from "the Isles," who, when he is sober..., is trying to write a screenplay called "Seven Psychopaths."  The idea's kinda edgy/cool.  But Marty has writer's block, which causes him to drink all the more.

And in truth at the beginning of the film, he's only been able to come up with one (perhaps one and a half) interesting psychopath(s) for his story: A "Buddhist psychopath" who he imagines as having had been a salutary, patriotic Vietcong fighter who went insane after he found that all his loved ones were murdered by American troops as part the Mi Lai Massacre in 1968.  So impersonating a Catholic priest, he emigrated to the United States and set out to murder in revenge everyone in the unit responsible for the massacre.  And after murdering a couple of them, he gets his big chance to get them all when he finds out that the unit was going to have a "reunion" in Las Vegas ...

But having "a priest" force a "Las Vegas hooker" to strap on a vest made of dynamite that he would detonate as she entered the room with 200 or so veteran members of the unit responsible for the Mi Lai Massacre apparently seemed too improbable/deranged for Marty and so he changes his "Buddhist psychopath" to a "Quaker" one, who exacts his revenge on a savage murderer of his only daughter by simply but _relentlessly_ "following him" (at a respectful, but still plainly noticeable distance) where-ever the murderer went until, the murderer, who himself had a change of heart (in prison) converting to Catholicism and had subsequently lived an otherwise _peaceful life_ even eventually earning parole simply could not stand being tormented by this malevolent yet supremely pacifist Quaker father "psychopath," and commits suicide.

But even with these two strange (if honestly quite fascinating "psychopaths") he had only one, one and a half or perhaps two psychopaths for his story and his goal was seven.  What to do ... besides drink?

Well it turns out that Marty's best friend, Billy Bickle (played by Sam Rockwell) and one who's been honestly trying really hard to get Marty to realize that his drinking is killing him (yes "Bickle" is the last name of the Robert De Niro character in Taxi Driver [1976] ... this point coming from Roger Ebert's review of this film), is running something of a mildly insane/evil scam with an older partner named Hans (played by Christopher Walken): The two kidnap the pet dogs (usually quite small) of rich people and then "find/return" them to their owners for the reward money.  Why would anyone (or any two people) do something so _mildly_ insane/Evil?   Well Hans had spent 20 years in jail ... and his wife Myra (played by Linda Bright Clay) now suffered from cancer.  Where's he gonna get a job with the attendant health insurance with his record?   So the two "steal dogs" of rich people and give them back to them for cash.  (They don't even write ransom notes to the dog owners.  They just wait until the rich people who've lost their beloved pets start posting notes on various neighborhood kiosks promising "reward money" for the return of their dogs).

However this mildly crazy/evil scam goes horribly awry when the two accidentally kidnap the beloved Shih Tzu (yes, it allows the characters in the film to say "shi...tzu" in countless variations during the rest of the film) of an otherwise truly sociopathic gangster named Charlie (played by Woody Harrelson).

Much, often very violently, ensues even as the characters with all their more or less obviously flaws and foibles actually talk about some fairly profound stuff (and Marty tries to get his screenplay together ...).  And yes, the whole story gets "nicely tied together" by the end ;-).

It all makes for a very well written, often funny if often pointedly disturbing story that reminds me of the influences I mentioned above.  Good job, McDonagh!  (I think ;-)

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