When Inception hit theaters two years ago, moviegoers left with their jaws permanently dislocated and their minds left unattended in their vacated seats. Since then, it’s been common to associate interwoven storylines in movies — a tool as unoriginal as the trite summer blockbuster — with Christopher Nolan’s “dreamy” cerebral thriller, which shamelessly steals elements from his equally brain-boiling flick Memento. Neither of these movies accomplished what most audiences crave: a comedic undertone. With an ensemble cast, an absurdly convoluted premise and a dash of satire, Seven Psychopaths attempts to revamp the rulebook on thought-provoking films.
Like this reviewer, screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is writing about seven fictional psychopaths and is having difficulty overcoming his writer’s block. Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), his friend who flits between odd acting jobs and stealing dogs for reward money, sneakily broadcasts the project in the classifieds and gains the attention of — not surprisingly — less fictional psychopaths. Thus the blood-soaked narrative begins. Among the basket cases are Hans, the hyper-religious, bloodthirsty Quaker-turned-pacifist (Christopher Walken); Zachariah, the rabbit-toting, soft-spoken one who pines over his lost murderer love (Tom Waits) and Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a gangster with a soft spot for his beloved Shih Tzu.
Each character’s quirks supplement some of the wittiest deadpan since Arrested Development, and the concurrent storylines add depth to the bitingly sardonic buddy comedy.
Charlie is a merciless killer intent on rescuing his pet alive and revenging himself upon its kidnapper. Billy enlists the help of hyper-religious Hans to avoid the crazed pet fanatic on a meticulously orchestrated dog heist. Desperate for an angle, Marty tags along and learns that his film practically writes itself, as the action that unfolds is incontestably ridiculous and a blunt dismissal of gore-stained film cliches. There’s even a scene where Bickle pens his ‘ultimate ending’ to Marty’s film, which pokes fun at the conventions of most soulless macho action cinema.
Psychopaths isn’t all mindless fun: It has a heart. Hans’ sermon that caps the narrative paints the image of another psychopath, a mute Vietnamese priest, whose true intentions are to send an anti-war message rather than any malicious agenda. If that’s not a stab at inducing discussion after the movie, I don’t know what is.
So here are some final words to close my take on Psychopaths: Viewers expecting either a slapstick comedy or a thought-provoking thriller may find more than they bargained for. It’s an incredible new entry in a film genre previously limited to big budgets, overdramatic dialogue and a constant maxim of style over substance.