Thursday, 6 December 2012

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

After my initial enthusiasm when I started off blogging nearly every day back in 2005, the frequency has gradually reduced to weekly -- normally on a Wednesday. However, had I done this yesterday, I would have felt obliged to write about the new James Bond movie "Skyfall" which we saw (out of a sense of duty to some extent) last week. However knowing that we would be seeing the above new film from writer-director Martin McDonagh yesterday afternoon, I felt that it would make the more interesting review. 

 I suppose I must write a few words about the Bond anyhow to add to the mountains of praise that it has been receiving from all quarters to say nothing about the heaps of money it's been earning. Yes, it was diverting and largely a fun watch, but I don't buy into the myth that it is a welcome return to the Bonds of old.  I didn't know they had disappeared, since the character has evolved with each new actor taking on the lead. Having said that I still have some trouble accepting Daniel Craig as Commander Bond -- he's a little too rough-cast for my taste. The fabled 'Bond girls' were something of a washout in the latest film, but Judi Dench's M has had her role beefed up for reasons which are soon apparent. Javier Bardem, as always, does well as the camp villain, but he's not half as menacing as he was in his Oscar-winning role in "No Country for Old Men" (2007). There are the requisite number of supposedly hair-raising chases -- some of which seem very derivative -- before Craig bundles Dench off to his childhood Scottish home in the attempt to protect her from the vindictive Bardem. There, aided by his family's old gamekeeper (an unrecognizable Albert Finney) they set up some "Home Alone"-reminiscent 'traps' for Bardem's invading horde. Certainly worth seeing to keep abreast of the 50-year old canon, but not the be-all and end-all of Bond's screen adventures despite the return of a few feeble quips.

To get back to the subject at hand, McDonagh's first film, 2008's "In Bruges" was such a breath of fresh air and such an oddball success, that his fans have been awaiting his sophomore effort with panting anticipation. The good news is that it is finally here for our delectation, but the bad news is, despite its entertainment value and its blood-soaked scenario, it seems more of an undeveloped holding excercise than a full-blown or well-thought out successor to the first movie. The basic story is that boozy Irish screenwriter Colin Farrell, now based amongst the kooks of Hollywood, has developed severe writer's block over his new commission. He just can't get into the development of his seven psychopaths screenplay and seeks help both from the bottle and from close friend Sam Rockwell. Rockwell, a failed actor, has a lucrative sideline with his pal Hans (an aging, cravated Christopher Walken, but as good as ever) in dog-napping to claim the grieving owners' posted rewards. However he has independently snatched the beloved shih tzu of Mafia boss Woody Harrelson, to put pressure on the powerful lover of his occasional 'bit on the side'. Harrelson, playing a psychopathic and ruthless gang leader in all other respects, is absolutely dotty about the animal (adorably possibly the best thing in the film) and unleashes a bloodbath to get it back.

It seems to me that McDonagh has possibly tried to overcome his own minor writer's block and has taken various, occasionally half-baked, ideas that have come to him and thrown them at the screen in the hope of achieving an acceptable whole. What we finally have are a series of vignettes in search of a story, with side excursions into the tales of some of the other 'psychopaths' Farrell is considering for the final screenplay, including an Amish minister, a Vietnamese priest, and the current 'Jack of Diamonds' killer who has been busy knocking off minor Mafia goodfellas. Farrell is at heart a peaceful soul and wants the gory first-half of his script to morph into more thoughtful reflections somewhere in the desert; Rockwell baulks at the movie not finishing with a violent shoot-out ("we're not making a f-ing French film" he quips). Soon the main characters and the pooch actually find themselves in the desert on the run from Harrelson and his henchmen where the action grinds to a talky halt before continuing to its murderous end (or not, as the end credits would have it). McDonagh has a wicked way with words and the sharp dialogue mixed with weird-o characters provide ample entertainment. What they do not do is make a cohesive and particularly satisfying film.

The female roles are generally underwritten (a fault screenwriter Farrell is accused of) and Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko are totally wasted, falling into the category of cameos, with which the movie is lavishly sprinkled. Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg play hitmen mown down in the film's opening minutes. Harry Dean Stanton just has to stand there glaring to be the Amish 'psychopath'. Tom Waites has a slightly larger role as a rabbit-petting ex-serial killer, searching for his long-lost female partner in crime. 'Precious' Gaborney Sidibe has a few anxious moments as the one responsible for losing the shih tzu in the first place. Some viewers have claimed to see a fleeting shot of a real screen psychopath Crispin Glover and for all I know there may be others.

Given In Bruges's cult success, lots of actors seem anxious to work with the director a la Woody Allen or Quentin Tarantino, but McDonagh has not given us as much here as we all think he is capable of . However this film will have to do until something more fully realised comes along from his very talented pen.

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