A HOLLYWOOD screenwriter with crippling creative block finds inspiration in the most unlikely places in Martin McDonagh’s twisted black comedy that builds on the promise of In Bruges.
Like that impressive 2008 debut, Seven Psychopaths balances giggles, gore and giddiness, spattering the screen with lashings of crimson blood.
Most scenes of carnage unfold in flashback as figments of the lead character’s febrile imagination: a vengeful father slits his throat with a razor, a monk sets himself alight to make a forceful political statement.
London-born writer-director McDonagh isn’t afraid to sacrifice some of his most likeable and sympathetic creations, and he pokes glorious fun at the film industry when his hard-drinking hero suggests a spot of animal cruelty in his script.
“You can’t let the animals die in a movie. Just the women,” observes his best friend, tongue wedged firmly in cheek.
The paucity of detailed female protagonists in McDonagh’s film suggests that this might not be a joke after all.
Booze-swilling Irish scribe Marty (Colin Farrell) has reached an impasse with a script called Seven Psychopaths, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering girlfriend Kaya (Abbie Cornish).
“I got the title - I just haven’t been able to come up with all the psychopaths yet,” Marty tells best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), a jobbing actor who is involved in a dog-napping scam with elderly associate Hans (Christopher Walken).
Billy places a newspaper advert asking bona fide psychopaths to share their life stories with Marty, and mad man Zachariah (Tom Waits) answers the call.
In return for sharing his grisly past, Zachariah asks Marty to include a message to his accomplice during the film’s credits, jesting that he will kill the screenwriter if the declaration is cut.
Meanwhile, Billy and Hans kidnap a shih tzu called Bonny, unaware the pooch is the pride and joy of sadistic gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson).
When Charlie discovers that the four-legged object of his affections has been abducted from dog walker Sharice (Gabourey Sidibe), retribution is swift and brutal.
Billy appears remarkably calm about his predicament.
“This dog is my Patty Hearst,” he quips, “except I’m not going to bag it, keep it in a closet, and make it rob a bank.”
Seven Psychopaths falls agonisingly short of In Bruges but is nevertheless an entertaining ensemble piece, which aims a shotgun squarely between the eyes of political correctness.
Farrell is somewhat bland but Walken, Rockwell and Harrelson savour their colourful supporting characters, whose fates become inextricably entwined in the desert.
McDonagh’s typically delicious cocktail of macabre humour and sickening violence would go down a treat with hard-drinking Marty.
“The Spanish got bullfighting, the French got cheese and the Irish got alcoholism,” remarks Billy.