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Film review: 'Psychopaths' twists and turns upon itself

Writer-director of 'In Bruges' stirs up more hit men and a comic gang of dognappers.

October 12, 2012|By Andy Klein
  • Woody Harrelson stars in "Seven Psychopaths."
Woody Harrelson stars in "Seven Psychopaths." (Courtesy of CBS…)

If it's easy to curse Quentin Tarantino for all the bad-to-awful imitations he's inspired, then it's only fair to grant him a degree of absolution for the occasional good-to-brilliant imitation. Case in point: Martin McDonagh's hilarious new "Seven Psychopaths," opening this week.

It may be unfair to reduce McDonagh to the status of imitator. Before he came to film, the Anglo-Irish McDonagh had already established himself as the most acclaimed new playwright of our young millennium. He began his cinema career with “Six Shooter,” which won the 2006 Oscar for Live-Action Short. And his first feature, “In Bruges,” was arguably the best movie of 2008. While its comically squabbling hit men certainly invoked “Pulp Fiction,” it displayed a slightly different sense of timing and an even more different visual style.

The first scene of “Seven Psychopaths” may be a bit of misdirection or conscious self-mockery. Two hit men (Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg) are making small talk while waiting around for their target. It almost feels like “In Bruges 2”; but, within three minutes, the two vanish from the movie and we meet the actual protagonist: a Hollywood screenwriter named Martin (Colin Farrell), who is way behind schedule on a script called “Seven Psychopaths.” Way, way behind, like, by roughly 119 pages and six psychopaths. (Was the first scene real or the scene he was writing?) Billy (Sam Rockwell), his slightly thick best friend, tries to be helpful by advertising for psychos in the L.A. Weekly.

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Billy is also partners with Hans (Christopher Walken) in a dog-snatching grift — grab a shih tzu from a wealthy neighborhood and then innocently return it for a reward. Unfortunately, their latest acquisition is Bonny (Bonny), the very cherished companion of scary-crazy crime boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who orders all his goons to retrieve Bonny and give her kidnappers exactly the reward he thinks they deserve. Soon, Martin, Billy, Hans and Bonny are on the run. As you might expect, high jinks ensue — high jinks featuring a lot of heavy violence.

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