I’ve been sitting at my desk for hours. Okay, maybe they haven’t been consecutive hours – I may have gotten up a few times to stare blindly into my empty refrigerator, and play with my cat. And I did spend some time watching Netflix. I procrastinate because I care and because writing reviews of movies you love is hard. And I really loved Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths.
It’s a strange thing to admit, but I don’t think there are many critics out there who would disagree with me: negative write-ups are much easier than positive ones. When I’m watching a film and I can see something done poorly or even just plain wrong, I can identify it, explain why it’s incorrect, and even sometimes think of ways it could have been done better. But how do you explain something that’s done correctly? It’s like staring at a big white wall: it’s easy to catch the smudges and missed spots, but how do you explain how the light is striking one area of the wall better than the others?
So where do I even start with Seven Psychopaths, which is the kind of brilliant white where it starts to hurt your eyes if you look at it too long. Do I start with the fun plot, explaining the story of a screenwriter (Colin Farrell) and his two dognapping friends (Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell) who end up with a crazy gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved pet Shih Tzu? I don’t want to give too much away, but I guess I can also talk about how the screenwriter is also struggling to put together a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths while also dealing with a bad drinking problem, a rocky relationship with his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish), and Rockwell’s character’s urgency to help finish the script. But I feel like I always start with that same kind of plot dump at the start. I don’t want my style to get stale and I should stay away from strict formatting anyway.
I really do have to give a lot of credit to the actors, because absolutely everyone was perfectly cast and gave phenomenal performances. Rockwell has such an awesome nervous confidence in him and there isn’t anyone in Hollywood who can deliver a monologue like Walken. I’ll have to be sure to particularly recognize the chemistry between the main three guys, because whether they were in full freakout mode after a couple of gangsters got shot or just having a casual conversation about Gandhi while driving to the desert they were just perfect together. Maybe I can write about that to kind of set up what I really want to talk about.
The key has to be the narrative structure and the meta line that runs all the way through it. I’m a total sucker for that kind of material, but I just love how McDonagh folds it in and is in no way surreptitious about it. This is a movie called Seven Psychopaths written by an Irish screenwriter named Martin about an Irish screenwriter named Martin who is writing a script called Seven Psychopaths. But instead of just shoving the movie up its own ass it just so perfectly makes a comment about the kind of movie that it is – one with lots of killing and bad language – and analyzes why violence is such a big part of our culture. It stares directly back at itself as a movie, tells you what it’s going to do, and then surprises you when things unfold as they should or don’t. But how exactly do I phrase that?
You know what would be kind of funny? If I kind of mimicked the self-reflexive nature of Seven Psychopaths and use it to both praise its brilliance and also analyze my own approach to writing movie reviews. It could work. Let’s give it a go.