TIFF 2012 Review: Seven Psychopaths

'No! Don’t laugh at this! These movies can be great!'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Everyone loved Seven Psychopaths. It played to soccer-crush level applause and every line got a laugh. I did not like it. I can’t say I was bored by it, but I was not amused one bit.

I got an inkling something was wrong in the opening scene. Two hitmen stand around talking about Dillinger or whoever maybe got shot through the eye. It’s way too forced a hitman pop culture banter, but it was the beginning so I was willing to give it a shot.

Marty (Colin Farrell) is a screenwriter working on a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths, so you can imagine whatever he’s writing is a comment on the Seven Psychopaths we’re actually watching. Marty’s friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) runs a dognapping scheme with Hans (Christopher Walken). When they steal the dog of a dangerous killer Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the crazy stories Marty’s been writing about start to happen to them, and in turn inspire the end of his own screenplay.

I feel like I’m the audience who loves clever meta gangster movies like this, so they made this one for everyone else who hates them. This is so people can go, “Ha ha, isn’t that stupid.” Meanwhile I’m the lone guy with a megaphone screaming, “No! Don’t laugh at this! These movies can be great!”

And I loved In Bruges, writer/director Martin McDonagh’s previous film. In Bruges was genius because it was truthful but insensitive. The characters said all sorts of offensive politically incorrect things, but they were all true and it was confronting. The fat guy really couldn’t walk up all those steps. Sorry, but he couldn’t.

Seven Psychopaths is too self-conscious about the laughs it’s trying to get. Billy complains to his lover about her STDs over and over again, because can you believe he says that to her face? Billy also has a rant where he out-logics Gandhi, a rant that got a huge laugh but it’s a smug easy joke. Great, you found the one example where Gandhi’s wisdom isn’t true because you’re an A-hole.

I guess Billy’s character is the real problem. He’s the instigator of a lot of the chaos, and Rockwell is great and he can do it. The character, though, is a clown who’s just pulling everything he can for attention. You know, the kind of guy who’s maybe amusing at a party but if you have to hang out with him it wouldn’t be cute anymore. God, my threshold for that is so low I can’t even tolerate it for two hours now.

Violence explodes casually like a Tarantino rip-off, but it’s cartoonishly graphic, like I guess people who hate violent movies think there’s no art to violence. And I don’t believe McDonagh really looks down at the genre. I think maybe he was trying to stretch and something got lost, but everyone loves the cast so much they give it a pass.

The first half of the movie is full of violent surprise after violent surprise, so the surprise itself becomes a cliche. Oh, here’s another one, either because these movies do that so we’re taking it to the next level, or because these movies are predictable so we’ll have to be unexpected. Neither perspective is clever.

What’s crazy is I keep thinking Tarantino rip-off because I grew up in the ‘90s where everyone ripped off Tarantino. Really it’s a Scream rip-off, the idea of the movie within the movie becoming the movie we’re watching. I love self-referential commentary, but when Marty talks about writing the second half of the screenplay as all talking with no shootouts, you should not accept the movie to indulge that. How on the nose do you need to be?

There are some hints of clever ideas. Some of the serial killer stories Marty tells and incorporates into his own script are inventive. Still they’re kind of one-joke premises, like serial killer killers and a Quacker stalker. Yeah, cute, but the story’s already been told. I just summed it up.

Walken gets by just by saying his lines. Which is an asset to the movie. They’re lucky they have Walken. Those lines are only funny because of enunciation.

Seven Psychopaths just lost me and never got me back. I’m glad everyone else at the Midnight Madness screening had fun with it. I don’t mind being the guy sits there arms folded in quiet judgment. And if you’re following the enigma of why Fred loves movies everyone else hates and hates really popular acclaimed films, here is another case study for you.