Seven Psychopaths: The Next Pulp Fiction?

I feel like Seven Psychopaths was one of those movies that came out of nowhere. One minute, it didn’t exist, and then there were suddenly TV spots and previews for it everywhere (kind of like the first Paranormal Activity). I kept telling people I wanted to see this movie, and they just looked at me like I was crazy—like I was actually heading to a corrections facility to check out an odd numbers of psychopaths.

I’m starting to think that this was CBS Films’ marketing strategy. If nobody knows about the movie, you can quietly set a release date and sit back until it gets closer to the release. And then what happens? BOOM! You saturate the media, claiming it as “the movie everyone’s talking about.” And even though nobody has technically seen it, everyone is talking about it, which leads more people to see it. It’s a pretty good strategy, if you think about it.

Here’s how the plot is described by the movie’s website: “Marty (Colin Farrell) is a struggling writer, who dreams of finishing his screenplay, Seven Psychopaths. Billy (Sam Rockwell) is Marty’s best friend, an unemployed actor and part-time dog thief, who wants to help Marty by any means necessary. All he needs is a little focus and inspiration. Hans (Christopher Walken) is Billy’s partner in crime. A religious man with a violent past. Charlie (Woody Harrelson) is the psychopathic gangster whose beloved dog Billy and Hans have just stolen. Charlie’s unpredictable, extremely violent, and wouldn’t think twice about killing anyone or anything associated with the theft. Marty is going to get all the focus and inspiration he needs, just as long as he lives to tell the tale.”

I freaking LOVE movies that give away their own plots. I find it extremely funny. If you’re not following, I’m talking about when a movie has a sub-plot that parallels the movie’s actual plot, or when a movie’s characters just outright tell you what’s happening in the movie. For example, Shaun of the Dead is one of those movies. The entire plot was revealed in the very beginning of the movie during a minuscule conversation between its main characters (Click here and go to #4, if you want to read about it).

Why am I bringing this up? Because Seven Psychopaths does the exact same thing! In the movie, Marty (Colin Farrell) is working on a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths, in which seven, wacky people’s stories are told (Hmm, that seems oddly parallel to something). At one point, Marty asks his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) to help him write the screenplay, as they’re on the run from Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the mafia boss who is after Billy for kidnapping his Shih Tzu, Bonny, and killing his men and girlfriend under the charade of a masked vigilante called the “Jack of Diamonds.”

Marty contemplates how to end his screenplay, sharing that he’s thinking of just having the psychopaths head out into the desert where they just camp and talk until the end of the movie—which he says as he, Billy, and Hans (Christopher Walken) are driving out into the desert where they camp and talk until the end of the movie. While out camping in the desert, Hans reads Marty’s screenplay and remarks that Marty is terrible at writing female characters because they either die or don’t speak more than a few incoherent sentences in the entire movie. That’s funny—Angela (Olga Kurylenko), Charlie’s girlfriend, dies and Kaya (Abbie Cornish) barely utters three sentences the entire movie.

You see where this is going? Billy then tries to help Marty with his ending by drafting a huge shootout with the mafia boss and his men, in which all of the psychopaths appear and die (except Marty, Hans, and the animals…because animals can’t die in movies unless they’re reanimated). This is the only place in the movie where Marty’s screenplay version doesn’t entirely parallel the movie version we’re watching. Before the shootout, Hans and Marty refuse to be involved in something that Billy started. Hans traipses off through the desert until he makes it to a welcome center where he runs into Charlie’s mafia goons, who shoot him down before heading to help Charlie at the shootout against Billy. Marty escapes the shootout when Billy negotiates Marty’s life for Bonny’s life, but Billy gets shot, referencing the screenplay, saying that it was always going to end “his way.”

However, Marty’s screenplay and the actual movie parallel one last time when Marty decides to end his screenplay with a Vietnamese psychopath waking from a dream (in which he murdered a crowd of Americans out of anger for what happened to his family during the Vietnam War) to find out that he actually was the Buddhist monk who famously lit himself on fire to protest the war (the ending which was suggested by Hans). Two parallels could be drawn here: one with the compassionate, spiritual death of the non-violent Hans, and the other with Billy knowing he was going to die in his shootout, which turned out not to be as violent as he had dreamt. God, we could break this movie down all day. I love this shit.

Sam Rockwell surprisingly owned this movie. Honestly, I expected Christopher Walken to steal every scene, but he didn’t. While Walken’s Hans was a very ambivalent, spiritualistic, soft-spoken character (which was still totally awesome), Rockwell’s Billy was violent, friendly, goofy, insane, determined, loving, vengeful, sexy, and funny. It was like seven psychopaths rolled in one person! How can you not think he’s a total psychopath when Marty picks up Billy’s diary and reads about how Billy watched his neighbor’s flag’s shadow move across his lawn for 8 hours(?) all while telling himself not to set it on fire (which we noticed he did when Marty looked at the neighbor’s charred flag)?

Just listening to him rant about Gandhi’s “An eye for an eye” quote being wrong (because it would technically leave one man with one eye) was absolutely hilarious and awful at the same time. And what was even funnier than that line was him acting out the shootout he wrote for Marty’s screenplay. Have you ever watched a little boy tell a story about guns and bad guys? Yeah, that’s kind of how Billy’s shootout story went down. He kept changing his mind about how things went, and he made all of the deaths extremely violent. It was the best kind of ridiculous. I think Rockwell is a seriously underrated actor. I mean, in comparison to Rockwell’s performance in this movie, Colin Farrell is a goddamn milquetoast. Rockwell could’ve easily turned this movie into a monologue (and he kind of did).

As I mentioned in my review of Oliver Stone’s Savages, the most well-developed characters in movies are the ones who are terrible human beings. Why? Because they truly encapsulate the violence, greed, narcissism, and lust of human nature, serving as prime examples of people we interact with on a daily basis. Sure, we all talk about how we really like nice, attractive people with good morals, mental and emotional stability, and good personal hygiene; but when it comes to movies, we choose to love characters that have serious issues over characters that fit our vision of the perfect person because they’re more realistic and remind us of ourselves in some way.

This is extremely true of Seven Psychopaths. Marty is an alcoholic who gets dumped by his “bitch” girlfriend, Kaya, for being a mean drunk during her party; Billy is a part-time dog thief and secret vigilante who kills mafia men and tricks his friends into going along with his crazy ideas; Hans is a part-time dog thief who uses his share of the money to pay for his wife’s cancer surgery; Charlie is a mafia boss, who values the life of his dog over the life of his own goons and cheating girlfriend, Angela; and Zachariah is a former serial killer, who used to travel around the country with his girlfriend, killing other serial killers.

Even though we don’t know why the characters (except Hans and Zachariah, who actually share their stories) do the things they do, it’s easier for us to relate to them and their bad habits and lifestyles than it is to a character who has never done anything wrong in their life. Their flaws make them so much more interesting, I think. In fact, this movie’s characters remind me of those in one of my all-time favorite movies, Pulp Fiction, because they’re just so fascinatingly terrible that you can’t take your eyes off of them.

Speaking of characters, when Hans critiqued Marty for writing useless female characters in the screenplay version of Seven Psychopaths, it was supposed to be a jab at Hollywood screenwriters for constantly writing useless female characters in EVERY movie, as was further demonstrated by the lack of Kaya and Angela’s presences in the actual movie. But where I found the joke lacking was that the actual screenwriters of this movie made the joke but didn’t follow the very point it made.

Considering that Hans was Marty’s voice of reason when it came to writing a good ending to his screenplay, you would think that the female characters would return at the end of the movie to drive home the point that Hans made in his critique of Marty’s characters. But they didn’t. Clearly, Angela had no way of coming back since she was killed, but what about Kaya? She could’ve easily returned at the end of the movie with stronger lines and more character development to bring the screenwriters joke about themselves to fruition. But, like I said, she didn’t come back. It kind of disappointed me because it felt like the joke just proved itself, which really wasn’t funny.

I guess my only big complaint is that, at times, the pacing seemed a little jumpy. I think that was more because of the director and editors’ style for this film than it was the actual plot, but there were times where I felt like I was trying to keep up with what was happening. It really didn’t slow down and start to ease nicely through the plot until after Marty, Billy, and Hans were out in the desert together. If the director would’ve filmed the first half of the movie like the second half, I think the pacing would’ve been a lot better.

Overall, I loved this movie. I feel like Seven Psychopaths could become a cult classic, like Pulp Fiction (to which a surprising amount of critics and reviewers are relating this movie). I won’t go as far to say that this is definitely the next Pulp Fiction because I like to pretend that Quentin Tarantino is perfect and no one can ever be better than him, but it definitely has some similarities.

The character development is great, but I wish we could’ve seen a little more development from the female characters, even though there was a reason why they weren’t well-developed, as I discussed above. Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson are the really big players here (because Colin Farrell is determined to forever carve himself into an actor niche of the bland protagonist who is only driven by other actors’ awesome characters), but Sam Rockwell takes it above and beyond with his delightfully absurd character, Billy. If you’re looking for a violent film with comedy, then Seven Psychopaths is right up your alley. If you think that you’d never laugh while watching someone’s head explode, guess again. Best of all, neither the rabbit nor the Shih Tzu were harmed, so everything is right in the world (so calm down, PETA).

Seven Psychopaths: B+

2 thoughts on “Seven Psychopaths: The Next Pulp Fiction?

  1. I definitely want to see this movie, glad to see a positive review. On a semi-related note, you should definitely make it a priority to see Argo, if you haven’t already, as that movie inspired me to think back to my film theory courses to see if it was really as good as it felt or if I was just under some kind of trance – it stirred more tension than any movie I’ve seen since Hurt Locker.

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