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‘Seven Psychopaths’ Review

Seven Psychopaths
Focus Features

Matt had just typed out the title of his ‘Seven Psychopaths‘ review, his byline, and the rating (seven — no, make that eight –out of ten?) when his wife Melissa walked into the room.

“How was the movie?” she asked as she flopped down on the couch and flipped on the television.

“Good. Really good,” Matt replied. “Interesting.”

“Interesting? Why interesting?” Melissa said. She started flipping channels.

“It’s about a writer who writes himself into his work. Colin Farrell plays this struggling screenwriter named Martin — and the movie was written and directed by this guy, Martin McDonagh, who wrote that play we saw on Broadway with Christopher Walken in it.”

“Right. That was weird.”

“It was,” he said, nodding. “Weird but good. So, anyway, Colin Farrell plays this writer named Martin. He’s come up with a title he really likes for a screenplay — ‘Seven Psychopaths.’ But that’s all he has, the title. He doesn’t even have the seven psychopaths. But then these people in his life — or perhaps these characters he’s invented — are all revealed to be psychopaths, and he gets caught in the middle of this elaborate gangster-slash-revenge comedy with them involving a kidnapped dog.”

Melissa yawned again. “A writer writing himself into his work? That sounds like a terrible idea.” 

“Well, I mean, if I ever did it, it definitely would be,” Matt said as he cleared his throat. “But McDonagh’s a really smart guy. It’s not just an exercise in meta-cuteness. There’s plenty of winking at the idea of the characters being aware they’re in a fiction, but it goes beyond that: the dialogue is great and for a movie as dark and as bloody as it is, it’s not cynical. It has a surprising amount of heart. It’s kind of sweet and knowing about life and love and friendship and what feels like to be a writer. Plus the cast is as good as it gets.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, this has to be one of the best casts I’ve seen in a movie in a while. It’s all actors who could carry a movie — or at least carry the nuttiness quotient of a movie — on their own. And here they’re all working as an ensemble. It’s like a rock band where every single member played lead guitar.”

Melissa let the idea sink in, then nodded.

“Walken is in this too,” Matt continued. “And he’s great — and weird. But good and weird as he, even he’s upstaged a few times by Woody Harrelson, who plays the brutal villain desperately looking for this dog, and especially by Sam Rockwell, who plays Martin’s friend, the guy who’s stolen the dog. He tries to spark Martin’s stalled screenplay by telling him about this psychopath who’s been written about in the newspaper called the Jack of Diamonds.”

“Let me guess,” Melissa said. “A serial killer who leaves jacks of diamonds cards on the bodies of his victims.”

“Okay, yes,” Matt chuckled. “So that part isn’t the most original aspect. But in a movie that’s about movies, that’s sort of the point. Rockwell’s character in particular wants to be a screenwriter — he keeps trying to convince Martin to let him write ‘Seven Psychopaths’ with him — but all he does is think in cliches. There’s this amazing, showstopping sequence where he pitches his version of the ending of the movie, and as Rockwell acts it out, McDonagh cuts back and forth between him riffing and his fantasy, which is just the worst sort of action movie silliness. And then later he contrasts that with the actual end of the film, which still involves plenty of violence, but a lot more awkwardness.”

“That’s funny.”

“It really is. It’s weird; this other movie I liked this week, this horror movie ‘Sinister,’ is also about a struggling writer. Funny coincidence, I guess.”

“Do you only like these movies because you’re a struggling writer?” Melissa asked with a grin.

“Hah hah. I mean maybe I like them more than other people will because on some level I relate to them. But, no, overall, I don’t think so. This is a really smart, funny movie. It’s simultaneously a sincere and sarcastic love letter to the magic of storytelling. And I like the way the characters are constantly fighting with Martin about how they should act and what should happen next. It’s like this thing I’ve heard novelists talk about. They say when they create good, believable characters and put them in the right story, at a certain point –”

“–they just start talking and acting for themselves,” Melissa interrupted. “And the writer doesn’t even have to write; he just has to transcribe. I’ve heard that too. I don’t know. Sounds a little gimmicky.”

“Maybe a bit,” Matt sighed. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the lock. 10:33. Ugh. He wanted to be asleep in an hour. “Anyway, let me write the review.”

Melissa said something else, and Matt said “Uh huh” back, but he had no idea what he’d agreed to. He was already thinking about what to write. After what felt like a few minutes, he looked at the clock again. 12:36. So much for that asleep in an hour thing. He read through what he had written. Kind of funny. A bit indulgent. It seemed appropriate, under the circumstances. He cut and pasted it into an email and clicked send.
Review Rating‘Seven Psychopaths’ opens in theaters on October 12th.

Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’

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