Friday, 28 December 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Seven Psychopaths

Directed by: Martin McDonagh

Produced by: Martin McDonagh
Graham Broadbent
Peter Czernin

Screenplay by: Martin McDonagh

Starring: Colin Farrell
Sam Rockwell
Woody Harrelson
Christopher Walken
Tom Waits
Abbie Cornish
Olga Kurylenko

Music by: Carter Burwell

Cinematography by: Ben Davis

Editing by: Lisa Gunning

Studio(s): Film4
British Film Institute
Blueprint Pictures

Distributed by: CBS Films (United States)
Momentum Pictures (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): September 7, 2012 (TIFF Premiere)
October 12, 2012 (United States)
December 5, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 110 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $15 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $15, 024, 049

Rightio, folks, in the process of putting off my revision for an exam (it's Film Studies, so I count this as revision, frankly!) and two essays (which will be easy enough, anyway), I've been keeping busy on the film reviewing front. As you can tell, there've been many posts this month, and that's because with Christmas near it's end, Oscar season is just around the corner. So, I can guarantee reviews for the following films: Chronicle, Rampart, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Argo, A Dangerous Method, Cockneys Vs Zombies, John Carter, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai, Jack Reacher and Life Of Pi. Realistically, there'll probably be more where that came from, seeing as how I've been low on the documentary, foreign-language and animation front this year, so, for the more frequent posts of film reviewing in the near future, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film stepping up to the plate is Seven Psychopaths, the sophomore feature film from Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, who found success with 2008's In Bruges, whose reputation continues to grow as one of the finest contemporary comedy films. I liked the film, but personally thought McDonagh lacked the control needed to make the film truly great (incidentally, I'm as guilty: in my review for the film, I ended it with a recommendation to listen to Joy Division's Transmission. I don't get the point I'm trying to make with that statement!), especially in relation to Shane Black's similar and frightfully overlooked Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. But this is about Seven Psychopaths! Marty (Colin Farrell) is a writer who is struggling to complete his screenplay 'Seven Psychopaths,' while his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is an unemployed actor and dog-thief, who with his partner in crime Hans (Christopher Walken), steal gangster and dangerously protective Charlie's (Woody Harrelson) dog Bonny. Lo and behold, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that all of those loose ends and strands are all part of the one story and come together. Sorry to sound potentially patronising about the film, but that's the way it is. Plot synopsis done, let's get right down to this!

Starting with the good, McDonagh has gathered a strong ensemble cast. Colin Farrell, who in recent years has settled comfortably into a reliable, go-to leading man, plays the slightly neurotic Jimmy Stewart to McDonagh's Hitchcock, in a part that is not without it's twists, but always feels natural. Walken is very good as Hans, and brings humour and philosophical gravitas to the proceedings. Tom Waits is funny, gravelling in his Waits-way through his small role, while Harrelson is great fun as Charlie. Given that the part was written for Mickey Rourke (famous for loving his small-breed dogs), he fits in well, playing well off of the dichotomy that he is so dedicated towards his dog and a complete misanthrope where humanity is regarded. However, Sam Rockwell is the actor who steals the show in the ensemble. Part of the brilliance of Rockwell's role is that although he is terrific in terms of his line delivery, you're never quite sure (and I don't think his character is either) if he's an utter fool or a genius. Animated, lively and entertaining, even though I'm most like Harrelson's Charlie (I detest humans, but love dogs!), my attention gravitated towards Rockwell every time he was onscreen. In that regard, Rockwell is a perfect fit for Martin McDonagh's sharp dialogue. Even if this wasn't a particularly good film, you'd get a few good kicks out of a dialogue. McDonagh is just one of those writers who is able to make a mundane conversation seem both natural and hilarious, without feeling like a gag is being forced out of them. Many of the film's best scenes involve a few of these talented performers just sitting around, not doing much at all plot-wise, but talking complete nonsense that happens to be riveting. Also, some of the more 'set-piece' type of laughs are legitimately funny in how they can take you by surprise, the first scene of the film really setting the standard for what follows. Ben Davis' cinematography has some good moments, particularly a long-take that relevantly brings to mind the manically brilliant Gun Crazy, and Carter Burwell's score takes an interesting route, challenging the conventions of a 'comedic score,' instead giving the film the pulp feel of something akin to his work in the Coen Brothers' Fargo. Seven Psychopaths is a very funny offbeat comedy in the vein of Tarantino that I think trumps anything he's done for quite a whole (granted, I've yet to see Django Unchained), and should be given a good look in.

That being said, much as I liked Seven Psychopaths, which I actually preferred to In Bruges, which I will look at again in the future, it's not without problems. McDonagh's script, while not lacking in laughs or strong dialogue, has a number of issues. It's structurally disjointed, lacking the fluidity between the various layers that it's attempting to aim for, and it also, certainly more so than The Cabin In The Woods, has an element of being too smart for it's own good. While it is at times surprising, too many means you're expecting the unexpected. Not spacing them out and constantly trying to trip the audience means that, like a pain reflex, they are ready for it the next it comes around, and as such a number of the twists, especially the big one involving the eponymous Seven Psychopaths, come across as anticlimactic and underwhelming. Also, while I think this is an improvement for McDonagh as a director, especially given all the tangibles involved here, I think he still lacks the genuine authorial control necessary for him to become a great cinema auteur. Finally, I think that Lisa Gunning's editing is saggy, in that there is a good bit that could be chopped out of this, and she unfortunately keeps all the long tassels which could have been trimmed a bit. This movie is 110 minutes, and really should been between the ninety-hundred minute mark in order for it be a far more consistent and efficiently picture.

Despite the fact I don't think Martin McDonagh has yet to quite find his sea legs in cinema (which I'm sure he will at some point; there's a great movie somewhere down the line) and saggy editing, Seven Psychopaths is a very good film. The ensemble cast, most especially Rockwell, is terrific, Carter Burwell's score is interesting, I liked Ben Davis' cinematography, and saying what I will about McDonagh, I do think the man has a sharp ear and is natural when it comes to dialogue. Seven Psychopaths is the kind of film Q.T. wishes he was making, because it is a real pulp thriller wrapped up in a deliciously twisted black comedy.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Relaxed (though I'll be either lethargic or a jitterbug soon with the caffeine in my veins, blasted cheap energy drinks!)

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