Seven Psychopaths (2012), directed by Martin McDonagh
(I took a much needed break from horror to watch this “normal” movie. Don’t worry, I’m going to see Sinister tonight.)
In Bruges is one of my favourite movies from the past decade or so, so I have been pretty stoked to see Martin McDonagh’s followup film Seven Psychopaths, coming about four years after Bruges. In Bruges has this magnificent character-driven plot matched with a wonderful cinematic quality, larger, overarching concepts and a hilarious sense of humour running through it all. It’s a great movie.
Seven Psychopaths is not as great a movie, but it’s a pretty darn good one.
It’s about…well, a lot of things. It’s about these dognappers who steal dogs and then return them for reward money. It’s about this writer, Marty (Colin Ferrell), who is trying to write his screenplay, Seven Psychopaths, but is being slowed down by a lack of inspiration and alcohol. It’s about a killer who only kills mobsters and leaves behind a jack of hearts at the crime scene. Also there’s a part with Tom Waits and a bunny. So lots going on.
All of this is delivered with a buddy comedy type feel, splashed with intense violence, a postmodern trim and a coating of existential philosophy.
McDonagh is the type of director who can make this chaos work, and he does for the most part. Despite all the ins and outs of the plot, the film flows smoothly and makes sense. The characters are fantastic, as are the actors playing them. It has everything that makes an action comedy work, but with a little more substance to it, thanks to McDonagh’s unique take on storytelling. And, of course, what makes it all come together is the humour, which is excellent. Laugh out loud even.
I’m going to be this guy again and talk about the film’s use of racial, sexist and homophobic slurs. The film is littered with them, especially the latter two.
I had a great, real life example last night of why these things can be troublesome. Behind me in the cinema was a group of three or four college guys who were drinking a mickey of vodka and obviously felt everyone else in the theatre would appreciate their comments as much as they obviously did.
Most of their comments were just general jackass hoots and hollers and declaring the return of Chris Walken whenever he said something slightly odd (I would bet money these guys have never seen The Deer Hunter, so they need to shut the hell up and show some respect). But at one point they started to compare an older black woman in the film to Aunt Jemima (which is nauseatingly racist). And then, once Woody Harrelson’s character used the n-word they decided that must be okay then and used it too.
I myself have used the argument many times that characters in the movie using homophobic or racist or sexist slurs is just an honest reflection of their characters. I still believe that’s true for many movies. But in something like this, something designed to be “cool”, with characters that are funny and stylish, that are going to be quoted ad nauseam, a film you know is going to be a college hit, can’t we try a little harder? Isn’t there a more intelligent way to use these words? Or hey, maybe even not use them? I don’t think not having the characters use ‘f-’ or ‘bitch’ throughout the movie would have in any way taken away from it.
McDonagh is a smart man and an intelligent director. He questions these pitfalls even as he commits them. There’s a great part where Walken’s character, Hans, asks Marty why his female characters are all so useless. He says he’s known a lot of women and most of them are able to at least string a sentence together. A part I really liked too is when Hans rewrites a part of the script with a topless hooker so that she is in a pretty dress and wants to have a conversation.
It’s a bit of a cop-out because then you can do anything you want and no one can hold you accountable because you’ve pointed it out yourself. I wrote a term paper like that for a class on media studies claiming that the teacher had to either fail me or give me an A because I recognized the shortcomings of my own argument (in a nutshell). I got a B-. I deserved it.
That’s how I feel about McDonagh’s handling of the use of slurs and his depiction of women. He gets a B-. If he knows his approach is flawed, as he admits, why not try to do a better job?
But most of the film is much better than that. And at least McDonagh has the wherewithal to question these things and not just slip them in unnoticed like in most Hollywood movies.
It’s no In Bruges, but Seven Psychopaths is still one of the more interesting and entertaining movies out lately. And I’m still intrigued to see what McDonagh comes up with next, because he is certainly a talented writer and director, who I feel can do a lot better and has a lot more to offer.
Seven Psychopaths is in theatres Friday.