Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Cinema File #81: "Seven Psychopaths" Review

I've never been so disappointed to be disappointed with a movie.

Damn did I want to love Seven Psychopaths. A weird amalgam of Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation and pre-Kill Bill Tarantino movies with Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Christopher Walken? How was I not going to love this movie? I don't know... but I don't. I feel cheated, the promise of this ingenious premise chock full of meta self awareness and clever narrative twists snapped away in a bait and switch, leaving me with this shallow, aimless, poorly thought out and poorly realized mess of a movie. It's not that there isn't a lot to like about Seven Psychopaths. There are so many interesting pieces to this movie, but they just never fit together. So many elements that just never coalesce into anything resembling a story I want to follow.

Seven Psychopaths is about a frustrated alcoholic screenwriter working on a movie called Seven Psychopaths, who derives inspiration from an increasingly bizarre adventure with his pet stealing friends that leads him through a deconstruction of crime thriller genre tropes. I can just feel my good friend and Picture Show Pundits colleague Nate Zoebl cumming in his pants as I write the words "deconstruction of genre tropes." Its sort of like a a bell ringing/angel gets its wings kinda thing, but that's beside the point. When our writer starts his script, all he has is a title and an incomplete list of vague character sketches, but no structure to speak of. Perhaps it is too easy to make the comparison, especially given how much this movie wants to be meta and up its own ass with everything, but I can't help but wonder if the actual writer of this actual movie started the exact same way, and then just started writing whatever came into his head, brainstorming and outlines be damned.

I feel a bit hypocritical, given my recent high praise for the film John Dies At The End, which has a similarly haphazard approach to its narrative, but there it seemed as though the disjointed structure was by design, meant to keep you as unhinged from reality as the characters were. In Seven Psychopaths, it just feels like the writer is making things up as he goes along, which I suppose is also just like the characters in the movie, but in a way that's far more frustrating than rewarding. I kept waiting for this movie to start right up until the end, and when it finally ended, all I could do was sit here and wonder where my movie went. It was like a hyper violent twist on The Royal Tannenbaums (or really any Wes Anderson movie for that matter), where a bunch of really cool ideas are introduced and set up, but never paid off, left hanging in so blatant a fashion as to suggest not simply a failure of execution, but no real attempt to execute anything to begin with.

The best part of the movie is also the part that is least developed and least crucial to the story, namely the various fictionalized vignettes constructed from the screenwriter's character sketches and how they circle back and intersect with reality. To say I wanted more of this is an understatement. I wanted the entire movie to be this, with all that bullshit with Colin Ferrell left on the cutting room floor. By the time Walken's character mentions his fondness for one of the fictionalized psychopaths in the script, a Vietnamese fake priest, and laments his lack of a resolution, its meant to be a clever nod to the quirky parallel nature of the story and the story within the story, but by that point so much has failed to live up to its potential that I'm just screaming at the screen that he's right, and we really should just cut back to that Vietnamese guy and stop focusing on this boring real world shit. This priest character is brought back in the end in what I suppose was meant to be a nice heartwarming or profound coda, but its so unearned under the circumstances that it just made me angry even as it gave me the resolution I was clamoring for.

All of that being said, its not all bad. Despite the almost painful lack of direction and pants shittingly embarrassing ball dropping on substance, its stylish as hell and incrementally entertaining, even if said increments never quite gel. Everyone involved save one notable exception does a great job, especially Rockwell as the boorish best friend who becomes gradually more unstable as the movie plays out. Walken is great as always, providing the heart of the movie while making it look effortless, and Harrelson's strangely sensitive dog loving mob boss was fun, even if I wished he was in the movie more. The only weak link is Colin Ferrell, who grates from the very beginning and never measures up to the pedigree of the people he's working with, bringing things down every time he opens his mouth. The satirical twists and tweaks on the genre are very funny for the most part, especially an extended fantasy shoot out sequence in a graveyard. I just wish these jokes hung around the latticework of a better film.

I might just barely recommend Seven Psychopaths if only based on the logic that the totality of good stuff, disparate and disconnected as said stuff is from the central action of the story, is worth it even if everything good about the movie just lays there, never coming to anything. Maybe you can pick up the pieces yourself and make your own better movie in your head as the actual lackluster one plays out. I can't say my time was necessarily wasted at all, and the fact that I expected so much more doesn't take away from what's there, which at the very least I must admit is perfectly watchable and sometimes downright enjoyable. I just wanted a lot more.



  1. Good review Ben. This movie was great and kept me watching the whole time. I didn't feel much for these characters; as much as I felt for the ones in In Bruges, but I still had a fun time listening to everybody speak this snappy dialogue out.

  2. Thank you for the comment. I still haven't seen In Bruges, though my brother counts it as one of his favorite movies of all time, so I should check it out at some point.


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