Since 1992, hip moviemaking has been defined by Quentin Tarantino. Seven Psychopaths may have just helped Martin McDonagh claim that role.
2008’s In Bruges was a brash debut that featured Colin Farrell as a tortured hitman trying to move on with his life, netting the actor a Golden Globe. McDonagh and Farrell are back with Psychopaths, with brings along a number of other interesting personalities, including Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell.
Films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction defined the Tarantino era. Directors like Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces) carried on the tradition, and Psycopaths looked by all accounts to continue it. If you judge the film on its opening scene alone, you will keep that impression firmly in mind. Except about halfway through, McDonagh reveals an ambition to say something new.
Sure, there are plenty of psychopaths in the the movie, but the screenwriter Farrell portrays wants to do something unique with them. His pal Rockwell firmly believes in tradition, and keeps threatening to drag Farrell’s troubled script in that direction. Yet the aging conman Walken is sobered by the death of his wife by the sometimes-jammed gun of Harrelson, and wants something new for his life.
Throughout his career Farrell has portrayed characters caught in lives that halfway to disaster. In Psychopaths the actor may have finally found an ending to that story. He and McDonagh conclude that true meaning in life is defined by the choices we make in spite of ourselves, whether of our own choosing or through unfortunate circumstances.
That’s what all of the characters have, those bad circumstances, though most of them are there because of bad choices. Farrell is the most innocent character in the movie, but he has a drinking problem that loses him a perfectly good girlfriend (Abbie Cornish). Another girlfriend (Olga Kurylenko) is a more literal victim.
This is the rare that skirts convention and tells you exactly how it’s going to do it, and it’s still satisfying, mostly by sticking true to itself right to the end, including a neat bit with Tom Waits, who may be here channeling the ghost of Heath Ledger, who borrowed from Waits to craft his most memorable role as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
Connecting all these elements is the task that doesn’t seem possible at the start, and is another signature element of the Tarantino era. Seven Psychopaths is the movie that pushes us past that moment, as each of the characters in is story finally move past the things they used to believe defined them.
McDonagh has just upped the bar.