“Seven Psychopaths” is twisted, demented and gratuitously violent. It’s also one of the best surprises of 2012. Starring Colin Farrell and a scene-stealing Christopher Walken, this violent drama about a dog kidnapping is an escapist pleasure that is more fun to watch than 99 percent of today’s movies.
Farrell is the star of the film and plays Marty, a wannabe writer who is working on a script called “Seven Psychopaths.” He is friends with the psychotically quirky Billy (Sam Rockwell) and an intense older man named Hans (Walken). Billy and Hans, two men you never want to be stuck in an elevator with, take pleasure and a certain amount of pride in their profession of dog-kidnapping and reward-collecting. They kidnap local pets and then are given a handsome – and clearly unwarranted – reward when they return the pets to their owners.
When the story begins, they have kidnapped the dog of a gangster named Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a decision they soon regret when people start getting killed in pursuit of an innocent Shih Tzu. Charlie may be psychotic and willing to threaten and murder innocent people along the way but gosh, he does love his cute little doggie.
And Harrelson, like Walken, is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Like Matthew McConaughey (who showed the depth of his acting in this year’s “Killer Joe”), Harrelson is able to both charm and threaten those around him, sometimes doing both in the same sentence. There is one really great scene showcasing this between him and Han’s hospital-dwelling wife that will both surprise and shock audiences. Here is a man who can be goofy and childlike when he wants to be and a vicious murderer when he chooses to be.
But aside from Harrelson, the rest of the large cast delivers in this wonderfully outrageous story. Farrell, who seemed wasted in the big-budget “Total Recall” earlier this year, is great as the lovable but alcoholic writer who is struggling to write a screenplay about psychopaths that doesn’t feature a lot of violence. And Walken has great fun actually playing a unique character who can be sensitive but who has a history of violence in his own background that will leave audiences stunned.
The script, which was written and directed by Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”), strangely succeeds in mashing together both intense violence and quirky comedy. One minute you may be shocked of the brutality of it all while at the next minute, you’re laughing along with the characters. At times, much of the story is foreshadowed or referenced in the script that Farrell is trying to write and the movie-within-a-movie becomes one of the film’s most intriguing and consistently engaging aspects.
It is admittedly difficult to keep track of which characters are actually the seven psychopaths that the title refers to – the screen tells us but it’s hard to remember which is which – but who really cares? When a movie is this fun and inventive, it doesn’t matter who is or who isn’t a psychopath.
“Seven Psychopaths” is one of the greatest film surprises of the year. Who would have expected that a comedy about a dog-napping could be this grand?