After an award-winning career writing for the stage, his first movie, In Bruge, won a Golden Globe for Colin Farrell and earned McDonagh an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay.
With his latest movie, Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh actually tops In Bruges – no easy feat considering that it’s predecessor is also one of 2008’s most highly acclaimed films.
Working in the same Grand Guignol style that has come to characterize plays like A Behanding in Spokane and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, McDonagh conjures a broad and witty comedy that turns in on itself as a meta-commentary on hip gangster movies.
What’s ‘Seven Psychopaths’ about?
Wannabe screenwriter Ray, (Colin Farrell) tells his unhinged friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) he doesn’t want to write “just another movie about guys with guns in their hands.” He wants his movie to be much more. Exactly what, however, he hasn’t a clue. What he does have is a title: Seven Psychopaths.
Intent on collaborating with Ray, Billy takes out an ad in the newspaper seeking psychopaths who are willing to share their stories.
Harry Dean Stanton is the Quaker psychopath, not to be outdone by a Buddhist Vietnamese psychopath played by Long Nguyen.
Tom Waits, stroking a pet bunny, plays a psychopathic hunter of psychopaths, while Woody Harrelson is Charlie the gangster, a psychopath obsessed with his little dog Bonny, (not a psychopath), a Shih-Tzu.
Bonny has been abducted by Hans (Christopher Walken) a psychopath at the end of his rope who runs a small-time operation kidnapping house pets and returning them for reward money.
Charlie would rather see his beautiful girlfriend dead than lose his beloved dog Bonny, and he is about to move Heaven and Earth to save her.
While it may sound confusing and maybe too smart for its own good, Seven Psychopathsunspools with clever ease and buffoonish charm. It is effortlessly brilliant and always accessible but more important, it slavishly satisfies the first rule of comedy – make ‘em laugh.
Energy accumulated in the movie’s first hour is slightly dissipated when Ray, Billy and Hans reach the desert for the final showdown and McDonagh’s screenplay spins its wheels. But the jokes keep coming, as lively and unexpected as the many plot twists and convolutions that make Seven Psychopaths so distinctive.
McDonagh is a deft director of actors, starting with Farrell as Ray, the alcoholic writer wannabe. For once, Farrell embodies the most normal character in the bunch. He underplays opposite a manic Rockwell, but still generates plenty of laughs as he wrestles with his demons and the real-life crazies popping up all around him.
Walken and Rockwell costarred in the Broadway production of McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokane, and together they bring to the screen a well-honed anarchic energy. Despite their impeccable work over the years, both actors deliver performances that stand among their best.
Walken has carved an indelible niche for himself playing creepy characters in dozens of movies going back to an early cameo as Annie Hall’s suicidal brother, Duane.
In Seven Psychopaths he is strange, unbalanced and again suicidal after the loss of his wife. His performance is energized partly by the fact that it’s Walken playing Walken in the same way Seven Psychopaths is a hip gangster movie about hip gangster movies.
The old adage says, “Comedy is hard, dying is easy.” Comedies, especially ones like Seven Psychopaths, are seldom mentioned at Oscar time and almost never win. Despite how difficult they are to make, good comedies look easy, which makes them easier to dismiss. If you’re smart you won’t dismiss Seven Psychopaths. Clever, original and unpredictable, it is one of the year’s funniest movies.
Watch the trailer for Seven Psychopaths below.
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