Reviewed by Demetrios Matheou
Marty (Colin Farrell) is a Hollywood screenwriter in a situation that I imagine is extremely common. He has a terrific title – Seven Psychopaths – but absolutely no story to go with it. "I've just got one psycho," he laments, "who's more of a Buddhist."
Meanwhile, a number of real-life nutters are about to enter Marty's life, notably gangster boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson), on a killing spree after the kidnap of his beloved pooch; Jack O'Diamonds, a masked vigilante who is slaughtering Charlie's henchmen; and Hans (Christopher Walken), an amiable petty criminal whose cravat hides evidence of a dark past. And then there's Marty's best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), an actor without a role in Los Angeles – he must be at least a little bonkers.
With his stunningly original underworld comedy In Bruges, playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh made one of the most satisfying British films of the past decade. It would be too much to expect the same standard from his second feature; but Seven Psychopaths comes close, as another wildly inventive and immensely charming caper, wonderfully written and very well performed.
A film about filmmaking, it pokes fun at, but also indulges in, the sort of high-concept, often vacuous fare that is so popular in Hollywood. While the eager Billy feeds Marty with serial killer material – from news stories to tall stories – the heavy-drinking writer has little idea of what to do with them, or awareness even that his creative output is little more than plagiarism.
What he does have, amusingly, is the desire to make his portmanteau psycho-killer film non-violent. "Just human beings talking? It sounds like a French movie!" exclaims Billy with horror. "No shoot-outs?" Hans chips in that "dream sequences are for fags" and, as his dog-napping scam brings Charlie to their door, tells the increasingly beleaguered Marty: "You're the one who thought psychopaths were interesting. They get kind of tiresome after a while, don't y'think?"
McDonagh has digs at the peripheral role of women in such films (Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko gamely illustrating the point) and at the kind of gangster-on-gangster dialogue that made Tarantino famous but is generally wearing a little thin. At the same time, there is a deceptively casual complexity about his plotting, in which apparently mythical psychos turn out to be real, seemingly dangerous men are honourable and peaceable, and comedy and tragedy turn on a sixpence. Having his cake and eating it, his number of chosen psychopaths allows him a Magnificent Seven moment in the Californian desert.
Just as he was Brendan Gleeson's foil in the earlier film, Farrell generously allows Rockwell, Harrelson and Walken (who adds yet another cracking monologue to his bulging catalogue) to steal scenes to their heart's content. McDonagh even finds room for Harry Dean Stanton to play a Quaker psycho and Tom Waits to turn up with a rabbit. Terrific.
Martial arts fans will find little to impress them in The Man With The Iron Fists, while non-aficionados will simply wilt before its cliché-ridden dialogue and graphic, unintentionally comic presentation of violence. It's directed by Wu-Tang Clan rapper RZA, who casts himself as a blacksmith in a Chinese town beset by warring clans, and is way out of his comfort zone on both sides of the camera. Rap and martial arts really don't go together. Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu – old hands enjoying themselves – make things bearable, but can't justify the trip on their own.