Dismissed by some as a Quentin Tarantino/Elmore Leonard homage or even ripoff, this film is far more than that. Strong perfs by all involved—especially Sam Rockwell—drive this little gem. Meta in at least two senses of the word…
‡ A term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.
‡ When you create new layers of abstraction between the thing or event, you are becoming more meta. For example: A footnote that is needed to explain another footnote is meta.
The pic opens with a pair of talky hitmen à la Pulp Fiction (1994), who themselves get whacked by a mysterious killer wearing a Mexican wrestling mask. This killer’s trademark, or calling card if you will, is to drop a jack of diamonds playing card on each body. A helpful graphic appears, noting that the killer is “Psychopath No. 1.”
The reference begins to make sense when we encounter screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell), who is working on a screenplay entitled “Seven Psychopaths,” although at this point all he has is a title. Other characters are introduced, including Billy (Sam Rockwell), Marty’s best friend, and Hans, (Christopher Walken) Billy’s partner in crime. Their specialty is to kidnap the dogs of wealthy people, and then claim the reward for “finding” and returning them.
Things go south, though, when the duo nabs Bonny, a Shih Tzu owned by gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). The canny gangster soon figures out the dog-napping angle to his lost dog, and it doesn’t take long to trace it back to Hans and Billy. Meanwhile, Billy is trying to help crack his friend’s writer’s block, and runs an ad looking for psychopaths, with a story to tell.
As it happens, someone does answer the ad, and shows up at Billy’s house. This character is Zachariah Rigby (Tom Waits), who spins a compelling tale of how he and his black girlfriend turned into serial killers, roaming the country killing other serial killers, including the Zodiac. Rigby’s visit inspires something in Marty, who now has a Quaker serial killer, as well as a Vietnamese serial killer, tied into the My Lai massacre.
Unfortunately, the script development is hampered by the reality of Charlie looking to get his dog back, and not being at all concerned with how many humans he has to kill in the process. All will be resolved in the desert, in a funny/tragic/meta sequence, which folds back on itself so many times, you’ll probably lose count.
***SPOILERS AND OTHER COMMENTS***
The one unmistakable “LA” sensibility of this movie is that everyone wants to be a screenwriter, and everyone is some sort of film expert. Related to this is the fact that many people in the film must die in real life, for the sake of making the movie…it’s that important.
Christopher Walken’s perf comes across as some impersonator doing a first-class imitation of Christopher Walken. Either this is Walken’s intent, or helmer Martin McDonagh (another Marty) gathered up these takes on purpose. In fact, nearly every take of each lead’s performances seems to be chosen as the most over-the-top available. And that could be an homage to The Godfather (1992).
There are plenty of non-PC ethnic/sexist slurs, and this has provoked protests from several critics. Of course, the references to the corpulence of Charlie’s assistant who loses the dog, and the more than apt use of a female dog term to describe Marty’s girlfriend can hardly be argued with. Likewise, Charlie’s ethnic slurs referring to both Hans and his black wife are pretty much in keeping with the supposed racial attitudes of Italian mafia dons.
The identity of the Jack of Diamonds killer might come as a surprise, especially since that person is Psycho 1 and 7.
Billy rightly makes fun of Marty when he attempts to somehow create a non-violent psychopath, and how he keep invoking the “true story” behind the Quaker psychopath, as his own creation. As far as that goes, though, the back stories of all the psychopaths are ridiculous and just add to the fun.