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19 October 2012

LFF 2012 Part III: Seven Psychopaths

When writing the screenplay for his latest movie, Martin "In Bruges" McDonagh had the title, Seven Psychopaths, but only one psychopath and a desire to make a film about love and peace. In the film, struggling screenwriter and functional alcoholic Marty (played by Colin Farrell) is also struggling with his screenplay for a film called Seven Psychopaths, having found only one psychopath and wanting to make a film about love and peace. Yes, it's that kind of film, but not in the aggressively pointed way Michael Haneke does it, but in a darkly comic and often self-mocking way that is very appealing. The end product--McDonagh's, that is, rather than Marty's--is a very funny, but frequently gruesome look into Los Angeles's psychopathic underworld.

Producer Graham Broadbent & writer-director Martin McDonagh at Seven Psychopaths

I went to see a screening of Seven Psychopaths at the London Film Festival this evening, which I almost missed due a very busy day, as I started the moving process. McDonagh and one of the producers--I think it was Graham Broadbent, but I couldn't hear LFF director Clare Stewart very well because the applause for McDonagh was so great--showed up for a Q&A after the movie. One audience member asked why Seven Psychopaths had come out so much later than In Bruges, given that McDonagh wrote the screenplays at around the same time. He said that his then lack of experience, plus the complicated plot of Seven Psychopaths, with its flashbacks, dreams, fantasies and layers of character arcs, made In Bruges an easy sell.

And Seven Psychopaths is pretty complex. The opening scene with cameos by Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg is funny, sharp and surprising. We then switch to Marty trying to come up with convincing psychopaths for his movie, although art seems to often mimic life. One of his seven borrows heavily from the "real life" serial killer who is terrorising LA in this movie world, shooting people and leaving behind a jack of diamonds. Meanwhile, Marty gets involved with some trouble his friends Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) are having with their dog-napping "business." The idea is that they kidnap rich people's dogs and then return them to collect the reward money. But when they take a particularly cute Shih Tzu, who turns out to belong to Charlie, a blood-thirsty gangster who will do anything to get his canine back, they may be in over their heads. Or maybe they have as yet unrevealed hidden sides and pasts of their own...

The screenplay-within-a-screenplay gets a little self-referential at times, and some may find this annoying, but I quite liked it. I liked the fact that Marty's friends tell him a major issue of his screenplay is the fact that there are no decent or well-developed female characters, which is, of course, true of McDonagh's screenplay to that point. Marty's girlfriend Kaya (Abbie Cornish) appears only briefly, looks hot, gets angry and the next thing we know, she's dumped him. An audience member asked McDonagh if he plans to make any films with strong female characters, to which he said he had one with a 55-year-old woman in the pipeline, so we will see.

McDonagh's movie is a fun and clever romp. It wouldn't work nearly as well were it not for the great performances by Walken and Harrelson; Rockwell's Billy was entertaining and Farrell was also fine, although his character seemed similar to a number of other previous Farrell characters. The sharp, funny dialogue and snappy one-liners crackle with energy, even when the meta is pushed to the max. The movie references abound--Billy's surname is Bickle, for example, and of course he talks to the mirror at one point. Seven Psychopaths isn't for the faint-hearted: there is plenty of gore and graphic violence, but if you can stomach a bit of a blood, you are in for a great ride, with plenty of dark humour and a strong cast.

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