It’s a cliché of such movies that the writer will eventually find inspiration in real-life, but what happens when real life begins taking lessons from the movies?
That’s the basis for Martin McDonagh’s long-awaited follow-up to 2008’s In Bruges.
Colin Farrell is Marty, a blocked, alcoholic writer who is failing to reconcile his latest script - violent portmanteau ‘Seven Psychopaths’ - with his growing distaste for movie bloodshed.
Enter best mate Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), a petty crim running a dog-nabbing scam with Hans (Christopher Walken) whose latest kidnappee is a Shih Tzu belonging to Woody Harrelson’s local gangster.
The stage is set for Marty’s imaginings to collide with the kind of oddball crime saga that could only happen in LA.
If that wasn’t knotty enough, events are interspersed with scenes from the unmade film-within-a-film, as McDonagh muddies the waters between reality and fiction until there’s nothing left but for Marty, Billy and Hans to hole up in the desert for peyote-fuelled discussions about how to write the ending to their predicament.
This is a case of a writer/director having his cake and blowing it to bits, as McDonagh wryly dissects the worst excesses of the Hollywood crime thriller while still indulging in outrageous violence, misogynistic characterisation and profanity-strewn dialogue.
In one sense, McDonagh is slumming it; in another, that’s the whole point. Seven Psychopaths is very much an American successor to In Bruges’ European elegance: brasher, more vulgar, but sharing the earlier film’s non-PC approach to dissecting national identities.
The key line sees Billy remind Marty that “the Spanish have bullfighting, the French have cheese, the Irish have alcoholism.” McDonagh’s inference is clear: America (ie Hollywood) has psychopathy, a warped blend of violence and sentiment that happily blasts everybody away as long as the dog survives.
Whether that justifies such an indulgent amble down the back catalogue of Quentin Tarantino or Shane Black (whose Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang did this kind of thing with more brio and a tighter narrative) is open to question.
That said, it’s a lot of fun, with a game cast visibly enthused by McDonagh’s characteristic zingers. When a permanently pissed (and pissed off) Farrell proves to be the film’s straight man, the only conclusion is that Harrelson, Walken and especially Rockwell are on fire.
Maybe next time, McDonagh will be, too.