In Seven Psychopaths, things go awry for an LA screenwriter (Farrell) and his friend (Rockwell) when the latter kidnaps the beloved dog of a mobster (Harrelson). So far, so conventional. The film, however, manages never to become a cringe-worthy farce; instead, it remains unpredictable till the end. What is unsurprising, however, is that Rockwell and Walken tread familiar ‘crazy’ territory, though the emotional potency of the veteran actor’s performance prevents his character from becoming self-parody or from letting the film get carried away with its bloodlust. To an extent, McDonagh too often sets up transparently-manipulative scenarios for heightened shock-value – Walken’s cancer-affected wife (Bright Clay) and the threat of violence towards animals are prime examples, as was the nature of Farrell’s crime in In Bruges.
Although the problem of the non-substantiality of the film’s women is meta-cinematically addressed by Walken, it cannot be ignored that their roles are, on the whole, disposable. Abbie Cornish in particular is wasted in the “bitchy girlfriend” role. In an unsatisfactory effort to make amends, McDonagh invites us to accept, with a sigh, this as one of the many Hollywood conventions by which the film abides.
Seven Psychopaths is film about films. Instead of being self-indulgent, this cinematic awareness works in its favour: the fact that the film plays so much with conventions means that the audience never knows whether or not they are going to be kept to. Consistently funny, always shocking, Seven Psychopaths is a worthy successor to the much-admired In Bruges.