Four years ago, Martin McDonagh made one of the most impressive feature film directorial debuts with one of my favorite movies, “In Bruges.” Starting off on such a high note, McDonagh easily could have succumbed to the sophomore slump in his follow-up film. I’m gleeful to proclaim, however, that “Seven Psychopaths” is anything but a letdown. For the second time in a row, McDonagh has put together an incredibly violent and hilarious dark comedy without a single lackluster moment. If McDonagh’s future projects are anywhere near as strong as these two features and his Oscar-winning short film, “Six Shooter,” it’s safe to say he’ll go down as one of the most engaging filmmakers of our time.
McDonagh wrote Colin Farrell the best role of his career in “In Bruges.” The two Irishmen are reunited once again for this film in which Farrell plays Marty, a popular Hollywood screenwriter. Marty is currently working on his latest script entitled, “Seven Psychopaths.” The problem is that the only character he has been able to come up with is a Buddhist psychopath, who obviously can’t be a killer due to his religion. This is somewhat reminiscent of Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation,” a film in which Kaufman literally wrote himself into a story about a struggling screenwriter. Marty’s writer’s block becomes a secondary dilemma, however, as he soon gets caught up with the schemes of several actual psychopaths.
Sam Rockwell is one of those actors that has never gotten a ton of recognition despite his respectable roster of work. He steals the entire show in a Best Supporting Actor caliber performance as Billy, Marty’s best friend who wants to help write “Seven Psychopaths.” When Billy isn’t trying to mooch off of Marty, he’s kidnapping dogs, returning them to their owners, and collecting the reward money. Billy messes with the wrong pooch though when he snatches the beloved Shih-Tzu of Woody Harrelson’s unstable Charlie Costello, a mobster willing to kill any human for his dog.
Regardless of all of the gratuitously comical violence and four-letter words, “Seven Psychopaths” is really a buddy picture at its core. The bromance is not just between the neurotic Marty and the eccentric Billy, but also Christopher Walken as Hans, a fellow dog kidnapper. It’s clear that this role was tailor-made for Walken who specializes in playing deadpan crazy men. The rapport these three men develop is completely ludicrous to say the least.
But they make for one of the most perfectly matched on-screen teams of all black comedies. The exchanges between them are nothing short of priceless as they talk about how thrillers always lead up to an uninspired shootout. It’s notably impossible to restrain oneself from laughter when Billy envisions the final act of the “Seven Psychopaths” screenplay around a campfire with his two chums.
The film’s overall success all ties back to Martin McDonagh, who is writing some of the sharpest and funniest dialog since Quentin Tarantino. In the vein of Tarantino, McDonagh also has a flair for mixing gore, humor and off-topic conversations into a single package. But he never comes off as just another Tarantino wannabe like Troy Duffy, director of the “Boondock Saints” pictures. McDonagh is a truly offbeat talent with a unique signature and voice. He’s also among the few directors working today who knows how to use the “C” word without being too tasteless.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.