There are seven psychopaths, some of them real, some of them imaginary. Which is which? Who knows! That’s the point! It’s a movie… Characters, even non-fictional ones, are inherently imaginary because they are funneled through a medium like film or the page and exist only through a mutual engagement of imaginations between the minds of the filmmakers and the minds of the viewers.
Seven Psychopaths is a fantastic film. It’s one of those rare films that kind of actually understands traditional story structure and character by breaking those rules and showing us how awesome a non-traditional film can be. It certainly takes some cues from Pulp Fiction in this sense, however the film is not presented in a non-linear fashion. The cues it takes from Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece are simple: Characters are the narrative, and things don’t always fall into place like a typical three act screenplay. People you like will die, others will be left alone, and the plot will occasionally sidetrack to explore the parallels. It also helps that the acting is fantastic and the dialogue superb. I didn’t find a single moment in which the dialogue had completely taken over for the storytelling, or was being too expository. The method in which the story is told is grade-A: visual and character driven.
One of the first things many reviews seem to latch onto with this film is the fact that it’s self reflexive. The main character, Marty (Colin Farrell), is modeled after the film’s writer and director, Martin McDonagh (In Bruges). Marty is conveniently a screenwriter, struggling to write a script called “Seven Psychopaths.” Events and characters seem to reflect some of what he writes, but ultimately the film does not become directly influenced by the writing of Marty. It is self reflexive, but it is not directly meta. The reason I say this is that most of those coincidental connections between the events of the film and the writing of Marty were cleverly put together and architected by Billy (Sam Rockwell), Marty’s best friend, who lives his life like a Hollywood narrative and desperately wants to help write the screenplay. I will explain this no further, as it would ruin much of the clever moments of the film, but suffice it to say that the pay off that Billy experiences is very much different and the antithesis of the payoff that Marty experiences.
The cinematography is a rare display of what I’d like to describe as “overexposed.” This is not a bad thing. Character’s faces are occasionally sidelighted or backlighted by extremely strong sunlight, but the sky and clouds remain gorgeously crisp. It is extremely naturalistic, and harkens to the low-fi look of the spaghetti westerns. Overexposure is something that we don’t see much these days, now that digital cinematography is becoming popular. With a digital camera, you simply cannot have that strong sunlight and retain detail in the sky and clouds. Even the newest cameras cannot render the highlights correctly. Conveniently enough, Seven Psychopaths was shot on 35mm film. For me, a 35mm fan, I am always pleasantly surprised when I see overexposed areas of the frame look quite lovely, because I have grown simply tired of films like Prometheus that push everything into the darkness.
Seven Psychopaths is a clever and intelligent glimpse into the rules and the breaking of the rules of narrative structure. The acting is fantastically convincing, the story is nuanced, and the characters are all deeply motivated and fascinating.
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(All ratings are out of five, with halves)
Art Direction: ****
Overall “Film as Entertainment” Rating: ****
Overall “Film as Art” Rating: *****
Overall: **** 1/2