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Seven Psychopaths

It’s a pretty loose rule, but I’m sticking to it. I’ve come to the conclusion that if Colin Farrell is in a film,  it’s at least worth a peek. But then I realize that I keep forgetting about 2004’s “Alexander”, which I’ve never seen. The critically derided Oliver Stone epic was a commercial disaster in the United States when it was released just over eight years ago, but it did decent business overseas. However, the film has three different cuts at this point, and I haven’t figured out which version I should give a shot(none, maybe?). So, it’s more of a guideline than actually being set it stone. Allow me another maxim though, if you will. If Martin McDonagh is behind it, it’s going to be an interesting ride. I think that one plays just a bit safer. McDonagh has only directed two feature films at this point(2008’s “In Bruges”, and this), but he’s also a renowned playwright. And I’ve seen a bunch of his productions on the New York stage(both on Broadway and off), including “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”, “The Pillowman”, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” and “A Behanding in Spokane”. That last one starred Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell, who both appear in “Seven Psychopaths”, and it reminds me that I eventually have to write about my completely accidental encounter with the wonderfully bizarre Mr. Walken outside the theater about 30 minutes before curtain up. It was a gas—but that’s for another time. Whether on the screen or the boards, McDonagh’s works are always startlingly violent and frequently hilarious. And “Seven Psychopaths” is no exception. It’s loopy as all get-out, but it’s undeniably fun. It’s dark as coal though, so don’t claim you weren’t warned.

How to break down the plot of “Seven Psychopaths”? I don’t want to give too much away, so I will earnestly attempt brevity. That won’t be as easy as it sounds, btw. After a rousing, dialogue-heavy prologue with Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry and Tommy, respectively(you’ll note that both have headlined on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”, but I recall first being wowed by Mr. Stuhlbarg in 2005 when he starred in McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” on the Great White Way), the focus shifts to struggling screenwriter, Marty Faranan(Mr. Farrell). He’s working to complete an ambitious screenplay called Seven Psychopaths, and he reluctantly agrees to collaborate with his unemployed actor buddy, Billy Bickle(Mr. Rockwell—and yes, “Taxi Driver” should come to mind), to try to complete the task. Billy also has a much older friend in Hans(the fantastic Mr. Walken), whom he partners with to kidnap dogs and return them to their owners for the reward money. When they unknowingly swipe the pet of a local gangster(a spot-on Woody Harrelson), Billy and Hans have inadvertently put themselves and their loved ones in extreme danger. Meanwhile, Billy has placed an ad in the trades inviting “psychopaths” to come and share their stories for inclusion in the screenplay. One who shows up is Zachariah Rigby(the marvelous Tom Waits), who weaves a nostalgic tale of a psychopathic killing spree committed with his long-lost beloved, Maggie—who Zachariah once saved from a murderer. Zachariah and Maggie spend a number of years spanning the countryside as the “killers of killers”, disposing of serial killers before they can strike again. That is until a disagreement splits them up and they go their separate ways. Zachariah hopes to get a message to Maggie in the end credits of “Seven Psychopaths”, which he knows she would be certain to see. Soon, the gangster figures out it was Hans that stole his dog—and he visits the man’s cancer-stricken wife at the hospital. Also, Billy is sleeping with the gangster’s girlfriend(exotic beauty Olga Kurylenko)! And just to keep things hopping, there is a masked crazy known as the “Jack of Diamonds” killer, who is offing gangsters throughout the film. That’s about the best I can do to sum things up, while still avoiding spoilers—hopefully that piqued your interest.

There’s an exploding head scene in “Seven Psychopaths”—and it’s a damn good one. Some of my other favorites include Edgar Wright’s “Hot Fuzz” and(of course!) David Cronenberg’s “Scanners”. Not a connoisseur of detonating domes and buckets of blood? The DVD set for “Downtown Abbey: Season 3” was released on the same day as “Seven Psychopaths”. And that’s not a diss of “Downtown Abbey”! But need I inform you that none of the 7 psychopaths are portrayed by Maggie Smith or Shirley MacLaine? I wouldn’t think so. The wacky, convoluted plot thrust of “Seven Psychopaths” requires a little touch of patience, but I can confirm that it all pays off. It’s insane, but delightfully so. And oddly enough, the eclectic Mr. Farrell plays the placid one for a change. Then there’s national treasure Christopher Walken, who will turn 70(!) next month. And we’ll get to see him as Zeus later this year in the film adaptation of a novel I read back in 2009 called “Gods Behaving Badly”. I can’t forecast whether or not that release will be worthwhile, but the thought of Walken as the ruler of Mount Olympus is laden with possibilities. He’s certainly acquired the reputation of a god with his iconic film performances, surprising dancing ability and Saturday Night Live appearances. He’s worshipped by many—and he doesn’t disappoint here. His Hans is funny, creepy and ultimately touching. Christopher is superb, as usual. In fact, it’s a boffo cast overall, with a razor-sharp and uncompromising writer/director at the wheel. Did I say something about “interesting ride” earlier? Oh, you bet.      Grade:  B

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