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Ten Word or Less Review : Adaptation, with guns.

Martin McDonagh may be destined to be one of those filmmakers too clever by half for the typically ‘make it shallow and obvious’ Hollywood marketing machine.  Seven Psychopaths marks the second effort by McDonagh, In Bruges the first, where the English director has crafted a well beyond the norm comedy piece that the distributing studio had almost no idea how to sell.  In both cases the studio in question tried to sell the effort as an aggressively quirky and violent comedy lark where you rolled over with laughter as people got blown away.  In both cases that sells the finale product very short and people didn’t buy it regardless.  Time to try something else marketing department.

Not as solemn as In Bruges but no less skillfully executed, Psychopaths features an well honed cast of performers for this story of dog-napping, murder and meta-fiction.  Colin Farrell is Marty, a struggling screenwriter trying to get a grasp on his new screenplay, Seven Psychopaths.  Marty’s best friend is Billy (Sam Rockwell), who along with Hans (Christopher Walken), operates a dognapping business.  They take dog, reward its posted, they return dog, grateful owner pays reward.  One afternoon Billy and Hans take a Shih Tzu belonging to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a mobster with some severe affection for his furry friend.  So much so that he has no qualms about killing the dumbasses who dared to snatch his adorable pooch.  From this silly setup McDonagh unravels a piece of self awareness fiction that would make Adaptation author Charlie Kauffman proud.  To shake it down to the basics, as Marty takes part in the film we’re watching, he begins to construct the film he will write, which is basically the film we’re watching.  Except there’s a Vietnamese guy with dynamite and a hooker involved.

Farrell fits right into this material.  McDonagh is one of the keen directors who get Farrell and know what he’s capable of as a performer.  He can do pathos and panic and sell a viewer on both equally.  It stands in stark contrast to the empty vessel performance he had to deliver for Total Recall.  Sam Rockwell was put on this Earth to play cracked, scummy and strange.  He’s one of those actors who under no circumstances can play ‘normal’ and nor would you want him too.  He shells out too much energy playing nuts.  Christopher Walken is also top tier, embodied and emboldened by his sheer Walkenness.  With so much age and life on his eyes he can make a simple stare into something mesmerizing and destructive and never seem the least bit affected by what he’s doing.  Woody Harrelson makes a funny, chilling mobster and Tom Waits blesses us with his presence too.  Anytime Tom Waits shows up, affectionately wielding a white rabbit no less, one should afford some respect.

This is the kind of movie which could have easily lapsed into gimmickry for its own sake.  An endless parade of nudges and winks at the audience, impressed with itself for being clever.  But being clever isn’t enough.  McDonagh knows this and knows to populate his film with characters we can empathize with and enjoy watching, even when they’re psychotic.  This is a comedy to respect on several different levels.  Here’s hoping that one day Hollywood figures out how to sell McDonagh to the world.  Until then those of us who do know will keep telling the rest of you how good his movies are.



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