Unlucky Seven

Updated: 2013-04-05 06:55

By Elizabeth Kerr (China Daily)

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 Unlucky Seven

Is Marty (Colin Farrell) wrapped up in fantasy or is this the inevitable conclusion to his thriller? Seven Psychopaths.

 Unlucky Seven

Marty is determined to show Charlie (Woody Harrelson) their final showdown in the desert need not end in bloodshed.

 Unlucky Seven

Writer Marty (Colin Farrell) has to deal with real pshycohpaths Billy (Sam Rockwell), Hans (Christopher Walken) and the Shih Tzu that unleashes a torrent of violence in Seven Psychopaths.

Unlucky Seven

In Bruges director takes a stab at American noir and proves Quentin Tarantino has some competition. Elizabeth Kerr reports.

There are two women on the poster for Seven Psychopaths, but rest assured, this film is as masculine as they come. The second feature by British playwright and director Martin McDonagh, who made a splash a few years back with the cutting and underhandedly hilarious In Bruges, has no time for girls unless they're being beaten, stabbed and belittled. But Seven isn't a slasher pic with no rhyme or reason. It may be scattershot at times, but it does have a point. Whether or not you get down with the circuitous message McDonagh may (or may not) be sending about violence, pacifism and choice is a matter of how much you buy into the director's outsider commentary on genre filmmaking-and perhaps American gun culture.

Seven is, first and foremost, a wholly enjoyable, jaunty demonstration in verbal acrobatics that begins with two hitmen (Boardwalk Empire's Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlberg, both brilliant) waiting for their target but are snuck up on and killed by a masked avenger. The meta film within a film motif picks up with vaguely alcoholic blocked screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell working with McDonagh for the second time) trying to hash out a script for "Seven Psychopaths" and getting nowhere. Meanwhile his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell, charmingly unhinged) and his partner in dognapping, Hans (Christopher Walken in fine, staccato delivery form), run afoul of mobster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), which sets off an absurdist torrent of violence and revenge akin to something straight out of a Quentin Tarantino picture.

But Marty insists on making a noir thriller that ends without a shootout and sends a message of peace while becoming increasingly embroiled in a bloody vendetta. Through it all McDonagh walks a very fine line between gratuitous violence and critiquing violence through violence and mostly comes out on the critical side, something Tarantino (and others) struggles with occasionally. As mentioned, there are no women in Seven Psychopaths-just the ones that have about two minutes of dialogue before getting killed, often while Marty et al discuss the sexism of just that kind of movie trope. Whether that's making a statement or exploitation is a subjective determination.

Seven Psychopaths has its share of overly winking, self-referential moments, but McDonagh nimbly juggles his players and images to grand ends. The inevitable shootout unfolds against the brilliant blue sky of Joshua Tree National Park and its bright yellow "No Shooting" signs. The moments that lead to it are those created by a filmmaker well versed in genre form-from the mystery Quaker lit by a lone street lamp to dust kicking up behind a vintage gas-guzzler as the heroes flee from the heavy. McDonagh also gets stellar backup from a stellar supporting cast that includes Harry Dean Stanton as the aforementioned Quaker, Tom Waits as a rabbit-stroking psycho who offers to help with Marty's screenplay, Gabourey Sidibe as Charlie's cowed housekeeper, Zeljko Ivanek as his right hand, Long Nguyen playing the pivotal Viet Cong monk who finishes Marty's story and Harrelson as a Shih Tzu-loving mobster who sets the whole story in motion. Beneath the comments on violence there's a delicate rumination on male friendships that underpins the narrative and lends the film its emotion. McDonagh is proving to be a deft Tarantino-lite, and Seven Psychopaths proves he may one day surpass his master.

Seven Psychopaths opens in Hong Kong on April 11.

(China Daily 04/05/2013 page7)