Seven Things I Hate About SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS
I’m not one to hate on a movie (well, not often – I didn’t like Bel Ami or Arbitrage much, it’s true) – but I came out of Seven Psycopaths incredibly indignant – angry even – and though the film has otherwise proved a resounding hit amongst my predominantly male colleagues, here’s my beef:
(WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND)
1) Like Tarantino – but not
I am (and particularly was in the 90s) as big a Tarantinophile as the next Gen X-er. Crackling dialogue we wished we could come up with in conversation; bad-ass crims riffing on the mundanity of life that we could all identify with – QT formed a new genre while paying homage to every other genre. It was funny for a while. But 20 years after Reservoir Dogs, Martin McDonagh films two assassins making smart-arse small-talk: one called Joe, a dead ringer for Joe Pesci (geddit?) and the other played by Michael Pitt, most recently seen as a gangster in TV’s Boardwalk Empire (geddit??). Somehow the tribute to the Godfather of wiseguy bellyaching became a slightly lame rip-off. OK then, granted – until the dudes got shot. And it was shot in one take, which had a certain panache. But still.
2) Seen ’em all before
The two best things in the whole film are Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken. Even so, it’s disappointing when one’s playing “krazzzzy!” and the other’s playing “spoookky”, and it’s reminiscent of their work in previous films (notably Walken’s in True Romance) – though I admit both acquit themselves well. But Woody is just wild-eyed, faux-dangerous Woody – and even the attempted oddball casting of crooner Tom Waits is somehow clichéd and strangely unsurprising. The notion of a killer tracking serial killers is terrific, and Waits is good – but his introduction, sitting outside Farrell’s house having answered the classified ad, is undermined by lame dialogue and limp timing on Farrell’s bemused part. Sucked all the air out of something that was otherwise warming up nicely.
3) Self-referential dialogue will fix all ills
No, it won’t.
Look, I get that this is a film within a film. A screenwriter without a story. Goodness knows we’ve seen that a hundred times before, too. Audiences were divided as to whether the characters’ “maybe we’ll just write them going off into the desert and talking for an hour” suggestion actually worked when the characters did just that. Divided between those who thought it was hilarious, and me. If you’re going to do that, you have to have a) witty dialogue to carry your audience through that hour without us feeling gipped, and b) something awesome to show for it as a climax. The Buddhist/non-violent ideal was cute, but it doesn’t work in a movie like this. But neither does pinning all your hopes on a scrappy dog, a psychotic loon, and a drawn-out yawnfest of tomfoolery. Walken’s getting shot was the second most profound part of the story but, once again, somewhat dampened by the lack of screenwriting that preceded it.
4) And same goes for underwriting your women
McDonagh has even admitted in an interview that he wrote in the “Man, how come the women characters are so underwritten?” self-referential line in order to head such criticisms off at the pass. But then, his character having made the point, McDonagh adds insult to injury by having Abbie Cornish (frequently called a “fuckin’ bitch” by her boyfriend and his best mate) shot down in a braless white t-shirt, in the pouring rain, in slo-mo. Are you kidding me?? (This is after he’s held a gun to the head of Gabourey Sidibe, calling her fat and disgusting, and after Charlie’s supposedly dumb, model girlfriend is shot in the stomach.)
Ironically, the most profound and compelling scene in the film belongs to Myra, faithful wife of Walken’s devoted Hans, whose pre-death scene in the hospital manages to combine tension with pathos, and exhibits great acting. She still gets splattered up the wall. Looks like one character was able to drag herself off the cutting room floor, then.
5) If it ain’t broke, don’t change it
No really, please do.
Just because you had a hit with Colin Farrell and a bunch of crooks in In Bruges, doesn’t mean you should keep doing that. (Let’s not forget McDonagh was also involved in his brother’s film, The Guard, which rolled out more of the same to great acclaim.) Here Farrell just plays himself – or certainly the “himself” we’ve been led to believe is the boozing, carousing, rough-and-ready Irishman. It’s hardly acting, but moreover it’s not even an in-joke. Maybe when Tarantino casts him as an ageing, boozing, carousing Irishman in 20 years time, we’ll be amused. But give him something clever and against type to do in the meantime, eh? (And him harping on about wanting to be a peace-loving Buddhist doesn’t really cut it.)
6) You lazy, good fo’ nothin’…
Sometimes there’s too much chat – other times, there’s nothing being said at all. “Well, that’s just great…That’s fockin’ great that is…Do you know what that is?…That’s just fockin’ great…” And so it goes on. Relying on an Irish accent and a cutaway to Granddaddy Walken just so he can interject “It’s just great?” does not great dialogue maketh.
This is the purest example of lazy, exploitative [of the audience’s goodwill] scripting I’ve seen in ages. For everything that’s clever in this film (Billy’s objection to the “eye for an eye” adage is actually priceless), there is plenty of dross. Most people seem to have been either laughing over the top of the lame bits or so buoyed up on endorphins they didn’t notice or care. Well I care! There is very little fat in Tarantino’s chit-chat, few places where you think “Hmm, I’m not an editor but I think he should have shut up ‘cos that scene maybe just lost momentum”. Sadly, McDonagh seems to have no such insight. It’s blah blah blah, and when we run out of blah, let’s whip out a gun.
7) I think I’m alone now
It is somewhat disconcerting that no one else seems to feel like I do. Normally I’m as big a fan of violent, sweary, crime-ridden pictures as the next person (usually bloke). But I was fairly livid as I left the screening. My objection to Seven Psychopaths is that it reeks of lazy, derivative film-making; it boasts a stunt cast (when there are seven names on the poster you know the quality is going to take some hits) with genuinely talented actors brought in to doddle their way through a recreation of their previous roles or just wait around to be abused before they’re gunned down; the plot meanders not as some super-clever self-reference to the film itself but because the screenwriter got lucky in a kitsch European town and someone gave him another job. And yet, despite all this, critics worldwide, men (mostly) who have been in the reviewing job for decades and seen it all, are falling at its feet.
Well, some things are better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but if the choice is to rewatch Seven Psychopaths I’d rather wind up as Billy’s last semi-blind guy.