seven things I loved about Seven Psychopaths

The pacing was perfect. It was the least bored I’ve been in a film for absolutely ages! The foreshadowing is subtle, every question is answered before you get sick of trying to figure it out in your own head and the build-up towards the climax never drags. The last film I saw in the cinema before this one was Pitch Perfect thanks to one of those free preview thingies, and although that film was kind of okay overall, that’s only due to an averaging out of a wonderful beginning, an interminable middle and a fun ending. The problem with Pitch Perfect was that it’s a genre film that ultimately fails to satisfy the requirements we have from that genre (i.e. the audience is brutal in prizing singing and dancing over every other part of the plot. Why include the same musical number three times if it’s supposed to be particularly unimpressive the first time? Why should we root for one acapella team to win the contest if we’re both shown and told that other teams are more talented? And NEVER cut away from a dance scene to show reaction shots from a boring love interest!) whereas Seven Psychopaths feels a lot freer and lighter for deciding to discard any generic conventions that aren’t helping it be a better film. It’s pointed out within the film how little sense it would make to direct the entire story towards a climactic shootout scene, and instead goes for a structure that is subtle, but not pretentious.

I didn’t know I liked Christopher Walken that much. Seriously, I think the only other things I’ve seen him in are his teeny-tiny cameos in Annie Hall and Pulp Fiction, and that Fatboy Slim video where he can fly. In this movie he plays a sweet, spiritual old gentleman who wears cravats. I have so much affection for the elderly and I count certain religious people and cravat-wearers among the best people I have ever known, so I was predisposed to like his character anyway

I totally knew I loved Woody Harrelson that much. I don’t know why, but I really like Woody Harrelson. He was so good in Natural Born Killers and The Hunger Games and Will & Grace, and even mediocre films like Kingpin and Zombieland. He also stars in one of the best ever episodes of Frasier: the one where his character from Cheers visits Frasier in Seattle and it’s really awkward because they don’t have anything in common. I don’t even watch Cheers! But it’s hilarious and very true to life, and Woody Harrelson is a lot of fun to watch.

That ugly dog was so well-behaved. I don’t really know anything about shih-tzus but I would have assumed they were all yappy and gross. This one wasn’t! It was sweet and docile and quiet, even when bullets were flying.

Sam Rockwell’s character reminded me of one of my favourite lecturers from university. I think it’s a combination of the leather jacket, the weak chin and the fact that I could listen to either of them talk for hours and hours. Now I want to reread certain books about American foreign policy and essays about sending aid to foreign countries and give him a cuddle.

It was somehow subversive and post-modern enough to deconstruct the otherwise totally overdone “subversive and post-modern ultraviolent film” genre. You have to be pretty ballsy to think there’s anything new to say about violence in media and how it’s consumed that hasn’t been said by the likes of Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver, A Clockwork Orange, Reservoir Dogs and even Heathers. I mean, that schtick is so overdone that even Tarantino has moved onto historical films. If I hadn’t seen this film, I don’t know that I would have recognised how much there is to criticise, either, but Seven Psychopaths hits upon a rich vein of material. For one thing, why is it that the more violent the film, the more masculine and the more white the cast gets?

Seven Psychopaths shares a writer and director (Martin McDonagh) with In Bruges, and I think it’s interesting that the former was written before the latter, er, although they were brought to the screen the other way round. Maybe In Bruges got some funding from a Belgian tourist board or something? Anyway, one way of looking at both films is that In Bruges maybe answers the questions that Seven Psychopaths asks: is there a way to make a violent film that doesn’t condone that violence? Why and how do people make films that feature violence, but not sadness and pain? It’s the only film of its kind that I can think of (although again, of course, I’m by no means authoriative) that focuses this discussion on producers, rather than consumers of violent media. It’s one (no longer very original and in fact very 1990s) thing to criticise a desensitised audience but it’s quite another to ask where that comes from. A lot of filmmakers who are interested in violence in Western culture will ask “what are the effects?” but it’s cool to see a movie asking “where did it come from?”

There’s also some brilliant stuff about gender and race in the genre too. It’s hard to get into that part without this whole blog post spiralling into a discussion of that alone, and it is a serious issue that spans all genres of film. I’ll just say for now that it’s good to see a movie engage with those serious ideas, and with the kind of black humour that is typically thought to be the trademark of white men.

The ending was delightful. I won’t spoil it here, I’ll just say that in keeping with my gushing about the perfect pacing, it wrapped up the themes of the film beautifully.

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