Writer-director Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths is one of the best films since the Coen brothers' Barton Fink about the art of writing—or, perhaps better put, not being able to write—a screenplay.
This is an ingenious, wildly engaging movie from the man who brought us the brilliant In Bruges (my pick for the year's best movie in 2008). Like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, McDonagh creates movies that transcend genres. I can only compare McDonagh to the extremely unique directors who make movies that are decidedly theirs, and theirs alone: McDonagh makes movies like no other.
Colin Farrell gets the second-best role of his career (his best being the starring role in In Bruges) as Marty, a character obviously modeled after the director himself. Marty is trying to write a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths, and he's racking his brain for seven characters with distinctive killing methods. The way these characters appear to him is part of this film's unending fun.
He's friends with a true nutball named Billy, and when a nutball is played by the magical Sam Rockwell, you just know it's going to be good. And it is.
Billy wants to help his buddy write his screenplay. He's a struggling actor making money on the side by kidnapping dogs with Hans (Christopher Walken ... this cast is just a dream). They swipe the pups and turn them in for rewards. They make a big mistake when they grab an adorable Shih Tzu owned by the psychopathic Charlie (Woody Harrelson ... do I hear best cast of the year?). Terrible behavior and violence ensues, and nobody is safe in McDonagh's crazed world.
When Marty describes the seven psychopaths, the movie depicts them in a fashion that's fairy-tale-like. Anybody familiar with McDonagh's body of work will see similarities to his Tony Award-winning play The Pillowman. There are other elements similar to the play, and I won't give them away—but I will tell you that a prominent member of the Broadway cast makes an awesome cameo.
The movie doesn't skimp on the violence, which is often delivered during stylized depictions of the seven psychopaths and their killing ways. This could almost be a children's movie—if everybody wasn't getting their heads shot off.
Farrell is at his best when his Irish accent is in full force, and he's allowed to show his comic edge. Marty's constant drinking helps fuel a Farrell performance that isn't stereotypically drunk, but obviously impaired. I love the immature, childlike attitude that Farrell injects into his work when McDonagh is around. Perhaps he should just make movies with McDonagh from here on out.
Rockwell and Walken are basically playing the character types at which they excel—and what's better than that? Rockwell is constantly delivering his lines with a wide-eyed, big-assed grin. And Walken delivers his lines in that, well, unmistakable Walken way. The roles seem tailor-made for these actors.
If you think that isn't enough, here comes Tom Waits holding a white bunny rabbit and regaling you with tall tales about executing serial killers. And there's Gabourey Sidibe as a teary-eyed former dog-sitter who is about to get fired in a most-unfortunate way.
Ultimately, the film is about the struggle to create—and it's presented in a very creative fashion. I mentioned the Coens' immortal Barton Fink, because it was a brilliant take on writer's block written when Joel and Ethan actually had writer's block.
McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths is about making something artistic and respectable out of trashy themes. Marty is trying for depth and beauty, while Billy screams for shootouts. Both characters get their wishes in hugely entertaining ways.