Mental illness is nothing to laugh about. Except when Martin McDonagh’s writing about it, and as he’s set his new movie in LA there’s an awful lot of it about.
McDongah’s black comedy ‘In Bruges’ was one of the most criminally underrated films of its year. Writer/director McDonagh’s background in theatre writing is matched – a rare thing, this – by his visual acuity, appalling bad taste and love of movies, and here it finds the perfect form in a story that appears to play out like the thinking man’s Tarantino, but in fact is closer to Tom Stoppard’s metafictional forays into film.
Marty (Colin Farrell) is an LA writer whose screenplay, “Seven Psychopaths”, has got as far as its title. Billy (Sam Rockwell) is Marty’s annoying best friend, a dog thief who wants to help Marty write his script. Hans (Christopher Walken) is Billy’s peculiar, charming partner in crime, and hides a past secret. Charlie (Woody Harrelson) is a psychopathic gangster whose ridiculously cute dog Billy and Hans have stolen. Billy advertises for psychopaths to help his mate write the script, and problems escalate exponentially – or at least, they appear to.
For with this being a McDonagh movie none of it goes where you think it should, so that when Marty is told he’s lousy at writing women’s roles, and that the second half of his film will consist of three men bickering in the desert, you suddenly realise that’s what you’re going to see on the screen. This is a very playful roam around the subjects of writing, fiction, reality, Hollywood, life, death (lots, and the gorier the better) and even dogs – and if that’s not what you’re in the mood for you can be like the critic in the LA Times who appears to have taken umbrage over the idea of anyone attacking Hollywood. It’s a writers’ film, and best enjoyed with that in mind.
Marty is conflicted; he wants to write something life-affirming but knows Hollywood will only accepts his script if it’s stuffed full of gun violence and sexism, so what he creates becomes what we see in an exercise that allows for having your cake and eating it. It’s a cool intellectual exercise packed with very funny scenes, and if it doesn’t add up to much – the characters are, after all, ciphers intended to make McDonagh’s points – it’s still a terrific way to spend an evening, if only for the sheer pleasure of seeing Walken refusing to put his hands up at gunpoint and Tom Waits with a rabbit.
The trailer, by the way, is appalling – don’t be put off by it.