From exploding cars and a stolen Shih Tzu to a heartwarming romance between two lovestruck serial killing serial killers, Martin McDonagh’s second feature film Seven Psychopaths has a little bit of everything in it. Now that it’s coming to home video, let’s go see if it’s a set that's worth a purchase.
For Martin McDonagh, a playwright and director celebrated for his dark comedies, the cruelest joke of all is probably that his films are consistently undermined by underwhelming marketing campaigns. When his first feature, In Bruges, came out it was to the tune of an extremely dull trailer, but the film was such a truly captivating experience that word of mouth has given it new life. Seven Psychopaths followed suit with a dated lime green poster accented with a small dog did all but promise prospective theatergoers that there would be some adorably quirky comedy coming their way. But the marketing team, the relentless villain that it is, has somehow managed to twist the knife in even deeper with the home video box art. The four male leads stand with the all but muted grit of an Expendables group shot in front of an exploding “7,” thus ensuring Seven Psychopaths will be dismissed as a generic action movie, something it is decidedly not.
For those of us who aren’t fooled by the marketing’s chicanery, getting past the posters allows us to experience a vibrant film that is both smart and disarming. The characters and the scenes in which they breathe have such an inherent value to them that they are nothing short of precious stones sticking out in what could’ve been just another “fun and gun” action movie. We follow the story of an aspiring screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) and his relationship with his best, and only, friend Billy (Sam Rockwell). Marty is struggling with his screenplay called “Seven Psychopaths” and Billy is desperately trying to support him with inspiration whenever he’s not occupied with partner Hans (Christopher Walken) in his side business of stealing dogs and returning them to their owners for reward money. Through their interactions we are treated to the men’s ideas for the screenplay and these scenes enrichen the film with a quality almost similar to a collection of shorts but nowhere near that obvious.
As the story progresses, and a particular stolen dog gets our guys in trouble with a local hothead crime boss named Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the movie evolves into something else. If a film written by McDonagh led by a character named Marty who is working on a screenplay wasn’t a big enough hint, the audience should soon realize that what they watching is about to get even more self-referential. The characters in the movie begin to run through possible scenes in their movie and before long I started to realize that this whole adventure might just be McDonagh talking to himself. Suddenly there is no Billy or Hans. There is only Marty. Billy and Hans are merely the voices in his head suggesting what Marty should be writing. Should he be making the smart intellectual movie that Hans wants or the blood thirsty one that Billy craves?
Watching this play out, I realized that Marty may just want to write both of those movies and the challenge is set for McDonagh to try and pull it off. It’s a little bit like Spike Jonze’s and Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, but where that film has this debate as the climax, Seven Psychopaths plops it somewhere near the middle and covers its own tracks just enough to make you question if those scenes are even important to the larger narrative. Essentially, the viewer is allowed to be Marty, Billy, Hans, or even the “played for laughs” gangster Charlie, in how they choose to enjoy the movie. To its credit, no one voice overpowers the other (except maybe for Billy’s since his scenes have more flamethrowers). If I am exploring the film on this level, maybe the whole “stealing dogs to return them for reward money” is some big metaphor for selling the same old movies to audiences year after year. Hey, in that case, maybe the generic marketing is actually a genius joke.
Seven Psychopaths may not be a movie that audiences will watch every week and quote with their friends, but it is an experience that leaves you with a lasting impression and only gets better when remembering certain scenes and marveling at how they all fit together in this film about the writing process that refuses to settle on ever being finished. This lack of finality comes in the form of a coda which suggests that the film might not be ready to end just yet--but it’ll get back to you whenever it is.
The disc might as well be barebones. Out of its six featurettes (or a poetic seven if you count the trailers for upcoming releases) none of them exceed two-minutes. All of the extras are little more than teasing trailers with bits of interview cut into them--reused interviews at that. If anything is a highlight it is the novelty “Seven Psychocats” which recreates the film’s trailer with cats. However, even this segment loses its appeal seconds in and would be nothing more than an easter egg in a standard Blu-ray release. The worst featurette is called “Layers.” In the segment, clips of the movie are cut in a way to create some sort of rhythm, but this will probably only make you question why the extra even exists.
Picture and sound quality are fine, although the film seems extremely grainy and the opening scene looks so blown out that I wonder if it’s intentional or the result of poor quality control with the transfer. Surprisingly, the menus are nice and the copious use of typewriter sound effects do a great job to underline that you’re watching a movie from the writer’s point of view. This is not a disc to buy for anything other than the film itself because unfortunately, thanks to the lackluster box art, it does little to improve the look of your shelf.