Sunday, January 27, 2013

Seven Psychopaths

There is a definite subtleness about Christopher Walken's dialogue delivery mechanism. He lets them out like honey flowing out of a pot onto ice-cream. He's the few actors in the years of bygone cinema, who could look equally menacing and docile at the same time. Here is one septuagenarian who knows his place in the screen and makes sure he's not easily forgotten, while never for once screaming for attention. I'm not sure how many critics are fond of his famous face-to-face dialogue sequences, but as far as I've known, they are legendary, starting from his Russian-roulette scene in The Deer Hunter, to his Pulp Fiction conversation with the little kid, the one with Frank Abnagale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can, the magic that took place when he came face to face with Dennis Hopper in True Romance, and now, he sits as Vincenzo Coccotti before Woody Harleson, psychopath, talking about crochets, moments after he shot Coccotti's wife in cold blood. Technically, the two have no clue as to who the hell is the other. But we know; and Walken knows we know, and he uses that on us, to convey without words that he knows who the man sitting in front really is.
Such are the intricacies with which Seven Psychopaths astonishes us, the same way In Bruges did, a couple of years back.
In sequences so incidentally similar to In Bruges, Martin McDonagh surpises by showing us two henchmen, out to kill someone.. being shot dead by a masked 'psychopath'. In Bruges started out by killing off a young kid. You don't know how or what brings about this killing. It's just as random as watching Donnie Darko turning to his side and finding an alien-like rabbit watching a movie with him. Your attention is grabbed. You're thus riveted to what's to come for the next one and a half hours.
When Hollywood scriptwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) finds himself struggling to write his new screenplay, for now only figuring as a plot less title "Seven Psychopaths", his best mate Billy (Sam Rockwell), whose day job is stealing rich people's dogs together with his partner Hans (Christopher Walken) and then returning them to their owners to collect a finder's fee, decides to aide him in his efforts. Apart from throwing in an occasional story about multi-layered psychotic individuals, he also runs an ad for psychos to call in and tell their life stories, collects articles about a serial killer whacking off mobsters as well as brings Marty into close contact with a maniacal crime-lord Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who is obsessively devoted to his shih-tzu. When Billy steals the minuscule dog he initiates a bloody spiral cat-and-dog chase, which culminates into an unexpected fashion. In the meantime Marty is delivered first hand access to a plethora of psychopaths with both Hans and Billy chipping in to the creative process with their ideas...
 Surprisingly "Seven Psychopaths" has received nowhere near the interest and focus as "Pulp Fiction", not to mention that of the intellectually inferior "Django Unchained", whereas one could expect a similar level of praise and furore given just how consequential and delightfully satisfying a picture this is. And Tarantino is probably the best person to compare McDonagh too. Both are incessantly drawn to violence in cinema, but whereas the American film aficionado uses it to create full length feature movie jokes, homaging various genres to the glee of likewise minded freaks, McDonagh manages to use the inherent flaws, expectations within a given type of movie to pose questions and draw attention to various issues. Whereas dialogue overflows in the work of both men, McDonagh's actually has a point of reference, an underlying goal, not just talk for talk's purpose. For example, an essential discussion occurs when Marty, Billy and Hans are driving to escape the wrath of Billy. Here Marty confides about the real movie he would like to make, where the initial violence introduced to the movie in the guise of psychopaths would peter out having the later half of the story focus on the protagonists idly sitting, waiting and holding philosophical disputes in the middle of the desert. And this is exactly what transpires for most of the remainder of the movie (enhanced by calm, brightly saturated lensing), albeit Billy is intent on a more explosive ending with an epic stand off as the denouement, thus doing his best to guarantee that the plot isn't mired down into a bunch of guys sitting around a fire and talking.
Billy is the audience, the target group, whose expectations inadvertently influence the writer's decisions, thus mindlessly choosing to sabotage any chance for a contemplative ending. Hans brings a certain balance (the thoughtful viewer?) suggesting content with meaning, where his concept of a psychopath has ulterior motives and goals, making his actions almost sacrificial in nature, accepting that necessity requires blood, but it need not be senseless violence, such as that proposed by the more Tarantinesque belligerent Billy, whose focus is primarily on the bloody shoot out and its effectiveness, not at the reasons or consequences.
Built around a story with surprising coherency and not overly diverting away to meta-analysis, McDonagh manages to fuse together the more contemplative side with some stark entertainment and wry dark humour. Fronted by a phenomenally well-rounded cast, who manage to keep within their character boundaries, despite the self-referential filmmaking contextualisation (especially in regards to Christopher Walken who treads a fine line between auto-parody and delivering the most substantial impact on the story). 

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