Martin McDonagh’s new film premieres in the Midnight Madness sidebar at the Toronto film festival; that puts him in curious company. He’s rubbing shoulders with Rob Zombie and Eli Roth, sharing programme space with the “backwoods road bandits” of No One Lives and the “ancient evils, transdimensional bugs and meat monsters” promised by John Dies at the End. And though you can’t hurt a fly on film today without simultaneously supplying a post-modern commentary on the audience’s enjoyment of its pain, it is hard to imagine that, say, Hellbenders (lecherous exorcists) pulls off quite such deft meta tricks as Seven Psychopaths. Nor that they’re actually half so sick.
Colin Farrell – often happier in the back seat than shouldering a heroic lead – reteams with writer/director McDonagh after the success of In Bruges; this time as straight man, rather than loose cannon. He’s playing Martin, an Irish scriptwriter living in LA, alcoholic, cowardly, and a provocative exercise in self-portraiture. Martin made a mint a few years back with a blood-splattered comedy, but is now battling writers’ block and wants to ditch the gristle and cook up something life affirming. But his best friend, played by Sam Rockwell with rewarding loopiness, is eager to collaborate on a script called Seven Psychopaths. He puts an ad in the paper, listing Martin’s number, and requesting deranged tales. But in fact it’s Rockwell’s dognapping business – run alongside Christopher Walken – that winds up granting Martin first-person contact with a world he’s only ever written about, after they snatch the beloved shih tzu of mob boss Woody Harrelson.
In some ways, Seven Psychopaths is a more conventional confection than its predecessor. And, by conventional, you inevitably mean Tarantino-esque. When it’s good, it jigs over many of the same buttons: witty and inventive, cracklingly obscene and sheep-dunk bracing. And it suffers some of the same short-burn as a Tarantino flick, vividly impressive at the time, but all fireworks and no Aga, a film whose parts might be more than its sum. There are scenes of complete brilliance, Walken is better than he’s been in years, cute plot loops and grace notes. Yet it doesn’t quite cohere, for all its grounding in a world in which, for all its frayed ends and fringe insanity, McDonagh does now actually inhabit.
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