You know you’re viewing a movie with truly offbeat people when the most stable character in it is played by Christopher Walken.
Welcome to writer-director Martin McDonagh’s nutty world in “Seven Psychopaths.” McDonagh follows up his wickedly realized “In Bruges” with a Los Angeles-based story of a mismatched trio of men who find themselves inadvertently at odds with a crime boss over a dog. But this character-based dark comedy is a mult-textured blend of this main plot mixed with a developing movie script.
Colin Farrell, from “In Bruges,” reunites with McDonagh, playing Marty, a man trying to compose a screenplay but in the throes of writer’s block. He is drinking too much and his girlfriend Kaya (Abbie Cornish) is drifting away from him.
It is a testimony to Marty’s goofed up life that his most stable support comes from his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), a struggling actor who makes ends meet with a little dog-kidnapping scheme he runs with his partner Hans (Walken).
Rockwell’s Billy is a loose cannon, a slightly less overtly crazy version of his Wild Bill Wharton character from “The Green Mile.” He may seem aimless, but his focus is dead on. He is a keen observer of life, and a dedicated friend to Marty. He works to inspire Marty to get going on the screenplay. “Seven Psychopaths” is the name of the script Marty to trying to finish.
Meanwhile, Billy and Hans step into dangerous territory when they dog-nap a Shih Tzu named Bonny from a young woman, Sharice IGabourey Sidibe), but the dog actually belongs to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a crime boss who will kill to get his beloved Bonny back.
While trying to stay a step ahead of Charlie and his goons — although Billy is hankering for a shootout with the gang — Marty, Billy and Hans collaborate on crafting the screenplay, with characters based on real people they have met — Tom Waits has a meaty role as Zachariah, a rabbit-loving man who with his wife went on a serial vigilante murder rampage for many years — and others they have made up — a Viet Cong soldier who comes to the U.S. post-Vietnam war to extract revenge for the Mai Lai Massacre.
They seek refuge in the desert near Joshua Tree but Billy undermines their plan to hide out, and he sets up a confrontation with Charlie.
Walken’s Hans is the most grounded character, a man worn down by tragedy in his life, sustained only by faith that briefly is seriously challenged. He supplies some key elements for Marty’s finished script and offers one of the funniest moments in the movie when, confronted by a shotgun-wielding henchman of Charlie’s, refuses to put up his hands, leading the befuddled gunman to stammer that this doesn’t make sense. Well, too bad, says Hans. This scene garnered the most chuckles during the movie’s previews.
Farrell’s Marty is mostly a ball of near hysteria as he begins to realize his pal Billy may be an actual psychopath. It is a credit to McDonagh’s writing that Marty does not fall under the influence of Billy and just stays his emotionally fragile self.
Harrelson could phone in his performance as Charlie — he has done this character enough times. You might think a guy who gets teary-eyed over a Shih Tzu might have some humanity, but then he commits an appalling crime, bringing us back to McDonagh’s reality.
“Seven Psychopaths” has its hilarious moments, but also its shockingly intense and violent scenes. Bad people die but so do good ones. That’s what puts the dark in effective dark comedies.