“Seven Psychopaths” — a splatterfest, a satire of splatterfests, a dip into the writer psyche and a friendship psycho-comedy — delivers a bloody good time on all fronts.
It also tickles the gray cells and even scores points with the heart.
Like his same-named central character, writer-director Martin McDonagh combines commercial aspirations with deeper concerns. Echoing “In Bruges,” the Ireland-born playwright’s previous film about gangsters and goofballs, he grounds the madness in the dynamics of opposite-tempered male friends who do insane things for a living.
Also returning is Colin Farrell, playing a Hollywood screenwriter and a case in point. Farrell’s blocked and boozing character, Marty, is struggling to write a script called “Seven Psychopaths” (it’s supposed to be about love).
Intensifying his woes are two loony friends: manic Billy (Sam Rockwell) and serene Hans (Christopher Walken).
The two, who are dog thieves, trigger a blood-soaked misadventure when they steal a shih tzu belonging to a vicious gangster, Charlie (Woody Harrelson).
As the body count rises, the film supplies enough gore to make you question the sincerity of its peace message.
The male characters observe that violent gangster flicks treat female characters as mere devices designed to get killed or tormented, and, at the same time, the movie does just that (and wastes co-stars such as Abbie Cornish).
Because it’s a satire, McDonagh escapes guilt, but just barely.
Mostly, it’s a funny, vibrant and consistently inspired movie with impressive firepower, snappy dialogue, thoughtful ideas and a likable arrhythmic heartbeat.
As the story takes Marty, Billy and Hans from fractured dreamscapes of Hollywood into climax-conducive desert sands, McDonagh’s engaging steerage, on-target casting and commitment to humanity beneath the bloodshed allow for compelling surprises.
While Farrell is fine in straight-man mode, Rockwell and Walken soar. A monologue in which Rockwell’s Billy presents the violent ending he’s created for Marty’s screenplay is blisteringly memorable.
Walken, whose eerily calm Hans shares a peyote moment and a dark secret, is loopy, entertaining and unexpectedly poignant.
McDonagh increases the dimensions when exploring, via Marty’s psychopaths, how true life filters into a writer’s fiction.
He also examines how fiction blurs with truth in movie-mad minds. Two assassins place “Godfather” character Moe Green on the same page as the real-life John Dillinger when bantering about gangsters who got shot in the eye in the darkly funny Tarantino-style opening, for starters.
Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg, as those hit men, are among familiar faces popping up. Others include Harry Dean Stanton as a vengeful Quaker psychopath, Tom Waits as a rabbit-toting serial-killer psychopath, and Gabourey Sidibe as Charlie’s dog-walker.