Most of the movie is hanging out with these three guys. That is swell.

Seven Psychopaths is only Martin McDonagh’s second feature film. You’d think otherwise given how good he is with actors and pacing and that makes sense as he is an accomplished playwright. In fact, he says he doesn’t plan to make very many films and won’t adapt his plays just for the money. I wish he would, though, since it’s next to impossible for people like me to see those plays. Hell, I’d love to just read them. I should look into that.

McDonagh’s chief talent as a writer/director is his irreverent humor that skirts the edge of bad taste whilst complimenting whatever thematic arc is running through a scene or entire piece. In Bruges is a far more straightforward movie than Psychopaths in almost every way. It’s also darker. Though Psychopaths goes very dark, it’s done with a sense of humor and vague surreality that recalls Tarantino. Weird shit happens and the movie likes to veer into montages, asides, tangents, and vignettes to deliver it. There’s a sprawl to Psychopaths in spite of its limited scale as a movie.

Another talent McDonagh has is working with actors. He gets great performances here from an extended cast. Christopher Walken pretty well walks away with the movie but everybody in the main cast is doing the good work. Seven Psychopath‘s is all about these performances, heavily based on dialogue, and the overarching sense of humor and play that both elements facilitate.

This is the best I’ve seen from Walken for a while. Movie’s worth it just for Hans.

This movies goes a bit meta. Colin Farrel plays Marty (McDonagh? Nah.), a semi-successful screenwriter struggling to write a second movie that will say something. He is a bit pretentious, definitely lost in his own life, and has an alcohol problem. None of these things are the focus of the movie because his real problem is Billy (Sam Rockwell). Billy is Marty’s inexplicable best friend who seems to be a goofy, freewheeling man-child whose main source of income is a lost dog scam he runs with Hans (Christopher Walken). When Billy and Marty hang out, bad things seem to happen while they drink and argue and talk about Marty’s project.

See, Marty wants to write an action movie that will wind up being about pacifism and life-affirmation and shit. He wants to call it Seven Psychopaths but has to come up with the psychopaths. Throughout the movie, we are treated to tangential introductions to these characters as they exist in the imaginations of Marty, Billy, and Hans. Every now and then, they are based on real people even if Marty doesn’t know it. One of the most satisfying parts of the movie is how this all comes together to drive the narrative insanity. An unsatisfying side effect is that the film is thematically messy.

The meta stuff is in full swing at the beginning of the movie, as these two actors (Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg) who both played characters in Boardwalk Empire serve up a fun and hilarious cameo.

The messiness comes from how the movie binds its apparent chaos to some kinda through-line. When Billy nabs Charlie (Woody Harrelson)’s dog, it all seems so random. Charlie is nuts about his dog and will kill pretty well everything to get it back. Charlie is the kind of unhinged, eccentric criminal thug that it’s hard to believe exists anywhere. He’s a fun character and Harrelson owns roles like this. Anyway. Billy’s deeds put Charlie in a state. Charlie comes after Billy, Marty, and Hans and some darkness and violence ensue. Meanwhile, a serial killer who only goes after “mid to high ranking members of the Italian-American crime syndicate” is knocking off Charlie’s guys. That Billy is ultimately doing all this on purpose to be a good friend to Marty underlines the clearest theme (friendship) that emerges while also adding some fun to the whole concept of psychopaths as subjects. Billy is completely nuts, in other words.

I guess I just worked out the core theme and through-line. Maybe the movie isn’t so messy after all.

Anyway, this isn’t going to be what most people like or remember about this movie.

One of the craziest subplots and sets of characters in the film.

People are going to remember the really out there stuff.

Tom Waits playing a serial killer who only kills serial killers, for example, but carries a white rabbit around after a traumatic (and hauntingly beautiful) sequence involving the Zodiac killer.

The Vietnamese Guy (Long Nguyen) who is an object of constant weirdness and fascination throughout the movie.

The story of the Amish Guy.

Just to name a few examples.

They’re also going to notice that this movie isn’t as bouncy, fast-paced, or action packed as it may seem. It’s more nuanced, slower, and spends more time on talking things out and squeezing in genuine moments among the really audacious, crazy shit. That’s McDonagh’s whole deal. For every hilarious Gandhi bit, there’s a Hans facing Charlie after he murders Myra.

The main thing that comes out in all this is that there’s a point to it. This is not a crazy movie for crazy’s sake. This is a crazy movie for humanity’s sake. There’s tons of humanity in McDonagh’s stuff. He likes to explore complex relationships and emotional reactions. He doesn’t go in for the easy stuff that’s clearly traceable. Redemption stories or the bonds of friendship take on dimensions of both incredulity and authenticity in Seven Psychopaths. Sometimes one of the crazy stories with their psychopathic subject turns out to be something that happened, and in those moments the seemingly antithetical priorities of the narrative bind together like magic. That’s why finding out Hans is the inspiration for Amish Guy feels so fun. It’s not just cuz we like Hans and are also mystified by him, but because sometimes the crazy shit is also sad and horrifying, with humor and maybe a little insanity being the only functional medicine. Being that the movie is full of this sort of stuff, it seems like Seven Psychopaths is communicating a kind of outlook on life.

The big standoff scene!

While trying to get at the essential fun of this movie, I wound up with analysis again. Just remember that Seven Psychopaths is a writer’s movie, full of great lines and turns of phrased delivered by great actors who are clearly having fun even when their characters aren’t. You’d think this would be incongruent but Martin McDonagh has a gift for making it work. Making it work so well that it feels like a statement.