TIFF Review Roundup: "Seven Psychopaths"

Review: Two Arts Journalism graduate students offer their take on the nihilistic meta-comedy.

The 2012-2013 Arts Journalism cohort had a chance to see a Toronto International Film Festival "Midnight Madness" screening of the latest violent comedy from In Bruges director Martin McDonagh. Presented here are two of their reviews.


Martin McDonagh’s ability to recycle so many old ideas into a lively, refreshing and hilarious murderous comedy is the central appeal to his new film, Seven Psychopaths.

McDonagh, who authored the play The Lieutenant of Inishmore, borrows his own story of a psychotic man’s violently obsessive reaction to his murdered cat. In the film, psychopath and mafia boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson) discovers his dog has been stolen and will use any gun necessary to rescue his companion. Marty, a screenwriter attempting to write a film about seven psychopaths, unwittingly finds himself in the midst of violence through his personal connections to dog snatchers Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken). The boundaries between McDonagh’s reality and Marty’s dreamed-up world are quickly blurred and then forgotten.

Colin Farrell’s Marty is vulnerable and believably lost in his alcoholic dependencies. His emotional passivity stands in contrast to Charlie’s unstable deportment and Billy’s compulsive need for approval and inclusion by Marty. Harrelson and Rockwell convey the exaggerated personalities well to further demonstrate Marty’s disassociation from psychopathic behavior.

Marty is a screenwriter, but does not drive the narrative. Rather, he arbitrates the introduction of the remaining six psychopaths as Charlie pursues Billy and Hans. McDonagh interweaves his narrative and Marty’s script to craft a ‘film within a film’ construction. The idea is hardly new – Spike Jonze’s Adaptation being an example – and the desert setting for the climax reeks of mid-century Westerns. McDonagh’s admission that the location is a cliché seems more of a cop-out than a twist on an old idea.

McDonagh’s ability to address wider political themes redeems this formulaic set-up. Racial discrimination, religion, and human rights serve to contextualize the mindset of the psychopaths. The film’s politicization makes the atrocities committed relative to other offenses and allows the audience to laugh. Wanton murder has never been so funny.

Well, at least not since Inishmore.

- Zach Marschall


(Ed. Note: Spoilers ahead)

Directed by Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths is a comedy that is bold and bloody. The opening of the story set the tone for the film: two gangsters are seriously discussing shooting through a man’s eye. Suddenly, a man with a mask appears a few steps behind them. He raises his gun, and shoots them straight through their heads. Then, he clumsily takes out two playing cards and drops them on the two gangsters’ dead bodies. The scene is shown clearly and wholly in no more than 90 seconds, without any intention to reduce the impact of violence.

After In Bruges, it is the second time Colin Farrell has acted in a McDonagh film. He plays Marty, who is having a hard time screenwriting “Seven Psychopaths.” He comes up with stories that are quirky and violent. These stories are shown in a film-within-film way where characters act and Marty narrates. The awkward killing motive winds up with tons of neck-slicing, and conventional scenes from horror movies weaves in ill-humored stories.

The best laugh-trigger story comes from Billy, played by Sam Rockwell, who tries to help Marty with the script and involves Marty in an extremely dangerous dog kidnapping. Billy complements Marty’s stories. As bloody and fierce as it may be, his story goes too far and sounds (or look, since it is visualized too) naive. Then, we have sinful fun watching the film.

With messy killing scenes almost every other minute, the out-of-nowhere-follow-up stories seem to go on forever. Marty does not seem important then. Story segments outshine the big story and weaken the main characters in the film. The exception is Hans, played by Christopher Walken, who steals dogs with Billy. Maybe it is because he is the only man who looks humane since he is the only one who has a little romance in the film.

- Xiaoran Ding

Seven Psychopaths arrives in theaters nationwide tomorrow, Oct. 12.

Follow the official Goldring Arts Journalism Twitter to get the latest news about the activities of year's cohort.

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