Wacked-out Irish playwright Martin McDonagh plays a wicked joke on the audience at the very beginning of his second film, “Seven Psychopaths.”
He shows us two hit men who like to talk nonsense, just like the guys in the first film he wrote and directed, the wonderful “In Bruges.” They’re standing on a bridge and arguing over the personal etiquette of being hired to “kill a woman.”
The killers are played by very recognizable character actors. Don’t get too used to them. That’s all I’m saying.
It’s McDonagh’s first joke on us.
His last one comes at the very end, in the middle of the closing credits. (Hint: Don’t leave too quickly.) The principals in that one are Colin Farrell, playing a frantic, alcoholic screenwriter, and Tom Waits, a man who may or may not be a crazy killer. All we know for sure is that he always carries a bunny around with him.
What happens in between is one of the sicker jokes you’re likely to encounter onscreen this fall. It involves: dognapping, cancer patients, alcoholic Irish screenwriters with writer’s block, Quaker psychos and a Mafia killer whose derangements multiply exponentially when people steal his pet shih-tzu.
Tough guys talking wildly entertaining and inane non sequiturs have been with us since Barry Levinson’s “Diner.” Then came the Coen Brothers and, crucially for McDonagh, Quentin Tarantino. McDonagh’s way with them is often hilarious in this film – which is, for a good portion of its length, about the aforementioned screenwriter trying to get his movie written with the help of two of the titular seven psychopaths.
They are played by Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell, two actors who make a lot of people beam at the screen before they even talk.
So do McDonagh’s little jokes on the audience, most of which are accompanied by a glorious cast of eccentrics having a fine old time – Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, etc.
Because it is, among other things, a movie about making a movie, a lot of playing around is done with how things ought to proceed. For instance, should there be a final shoot-out, as one psycho wants (that’s Rockwell), or should there be something more – oh, you know, conversational?
Here is the movie you’ve always wanted to see, in which killers debate Gandhi’s proposition: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” The way one crazy literalist looks at it, that’s not true. At the end, there’s one guy left with one eye.
All that is put together in a narrative that, for all the world, seems improvised, as if the writer-director were giving us one damn thing after another, the minute he thinks of them. It may have been a bit more orderly than that as he wrote it, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
Those of us in the audience who found much of this hilarious are probably not noblest examples of American citizenry. Other than the fact that there seemed to be quite a few of us laughing a lot, there’s little to be said about that fact, other than that quintessential current example of American Zen: It Is What It Is.
Let’s put it this way: It’s a cult movie just waiting for its cult to gather. As it does, much laughter will follow.
Just how sick will that laughter be, you might ask?
Let’s just say that “Seven Psychopaths” is, as you probably guessed, not a film that encourages wellness.