Seven Psychopaths (US - BD RA)
Gabe might have a new candidate for the most underrated movie of 2012...
Struggling screenwriter Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) is working on his latest screenplay. Unfortunately, all he has so far is a title – Seven Psychopaths. Marty's best friend, Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), is an unemployed actor who makes a living by kidnapping dogs and collecting cash rewards for a safe return to their owners. Marty’s partner in crime is Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken), a devout Quaker with a dark past and a cancer-stricken wife named Myra (Linda Bright Clay). One day, Marty and Hans make the mistake of stealing a Shih Tzu belonging to Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), an unhinged, violent gangster that loves his dog more than anything else in the world.
Playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh has a very small filmic legacy. Previous to Seven Psychopaths he only made two films (or one and a half, depending on how you look at it) – an Oscar-winning short called Six Shooter and In Bruges, an incredibly well-received crime comedy for which he was once again nominated for an Oscar (this time for his screenplay). But, having not found the good sense to fail yet, he is forced to live up to the expectations of this tiny legacy with his latest film. Seven Psychopaths is certainly a stylistic follow-up to In Bruge by revisiting the deadpan comedy, weirdo characters, and juxtapositions of surrealistic and mundane images that made that film so loveable. Colin Farrell even effectively plays the same character in both films. In Bruges took back the British gangster comedy from Guy Ritchie, Seven Psychopaths is additionally a reaction to male ensemble black comedy, like Very Bad Things and the wildly popular The Hangover. It’s also very obviously a film made by a playwright, despite some definitely theatrical sequences. The locations are limited (though not as limited as something like Killer Joe) and each scene is built up around conversations, rather than plot-points or set-pieces. Fortunately, the biting dialogue moves the story along and the character interactions sit delectably in place of set-pieces.
There are obvious comparisons to be made to Tarantino’s first three films and the crap his phenomenon birthed, like Boondock Saints, but McDonagh’s meta-textual treatment satires even these already post-modern movies. Like most writers, he mixes what he knows in with what he hopefully doesn’t (I assume he doesn’t have a real working knowledge of small-time criminals and gangsters). Portraying Marty as a screenwriter marks him as even more of a McDonagh surrogate than we’d already expect, based on his centered, non-psychopathic personality. At first I feared that this meta-textual ‘writing about the film while living it’ concept would be too precious for its own good. Soon enough it’s clear that, though his intensions are occasionally excessive (while arguing the logistics of Marty’s screenplay, Billy sarcastically asks if they’re ‘writing a French film,’ striking the nail a bit too heavily on the head), McDonagh has things well in hand. His greatest trick is the effortless manner he crafts his characters into fully-formed creatures, each of which have a fully-fleshed back-story that would make a decent film all its own. Yet, the proper narrative manages to flow relatively unrestrained and at a decent pace. The whole thing is a bit episodic, sure, but there’s no major loss of focus. There is an overriding feeling that McDonagh isn’t quite comfortable diving into the sweetness his existential crises beget and that he’s kind of hiding behind the snark his meta-text allows him, but, in the end, it does feel that we are being permitted to embrace the touchy feelies.
Seven Psychopaths is a bigger film than In Bruges on practically every level, which means it still lands pretty low on the average budget level for a studio release motion picture. In the place of aggressive, expensive special effects, McDonagh fills his frame with some of the best character actors in the business, who I suppose are sort of special effects in their own right. The director casts his actors for their obvious strengths and allows them the chance to build more human versions of their typical characterizations. For Colin Farrell, Seven Psychopaths is a much needed antidote to his bland performance in Len Wiseman’s dependently bland Total Recall remake. He’s the film’s straight man and structural center of the film, but is never bland in the way those roles are usually defined. Still, he can’t quite compare to Christopher Walken’s surprisingly deft portrayal of Hans, who was painted as a lovable clown in the trailers. Roles like these are a dime a dozen on Walken’s CV these days, but here he holds brimming tangible heartache under a stoically, shell-shocked façade. This is arguably the best he’s been since Catch Me If You Can. Sam Rockwell’s performance is similarly layered – fulfilling the expectations set by his other comedic roles without sacrificing charm or an affecting sense of melancholy. The guest cast includes complementary portrayals by the likes of Woody Harrelson (who’s filling in for Mickey Rourke), Tom Waits, and Harry Dean Stanton (in a dialogue-free bit part). There’s even a shred of meta-casting at the beginning of the film via the hiring of Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg. They are promptly shot in the head.
Seven Psychopaths was shot on 35mm film and presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p video. The grain of the format is certainly embraced, leading to a grainy, slightly soft overall look. The heavy diffusion, consistent grain, and over-exposed light makes for a rough, super-stylized experience that I’m finding it a little hard to review here. Important details are defined with sharp lines and are tighter than standard definition would allow without compression artefacts, but overall textures and other complexities are relatively mild. McDonagh and cinematographer Ben Davis aim for a basic theme palette, consisting of…wait for it…mostly orange and teal. Sigh. Maybe closer to golden-yellow and teal. Things are at their most blatantly duo-chromatic during the film-within-a-film sequences, while the ‘real world’ is more plainly caked in glowing yellow/orange light, leaving the teal bits somewhat more natural. These bases make a nice canvas for the bright red splashes of blood to pop against, too (there are a couple of exclusively red and black sequences for the sake of variety, I suppose). The black levels can appear both heavily crushed, as if someone has coloured the shadows with a marker, and diffused, allowing lighter fuzz of grain and more vibrant teals to bleed into them. The same basic thing goes for the white levels, which mostly bloom out to overwhelm the details. Outside sunlight is so bright it sometimes appears LA is in the grip of a nuclear holocaust.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is crisp and clean, with natural ambience – most of which comes directly from the center channel. The dialogue and incidental effects are warm with natural echo effects, but there’s still not a lot of standout noise coming from the stereo or surround channels. The violent sequences aren’t really ‘action scenes’ for the most part, so the sound design is centered around continued clarity and the contrasting, dynamic punch of gunshots. Even the more vibrant and stylistic fantasy sequences are played for laughs, so the poppy sound design is still more or less centered and understated. The only particularly expressive directional bits are during the real deal ‘final shootout,’ which features all of the appropriate whizzing bullets and crashing cars. There’s also a surprise car explosion that genuinely scared the shit out of me, proving that the otherwise overwhelming softness of the mix is effectively numbing. Carter Burwell’s score is a mostly ambient affair that rumbles beneath the dialogue to create mood. It has a nice stereo presence without being overtly separated into the rear channels. The source music includes ironic pop favourites like ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’ and more modern rock pieces, usually mixed to be loud enough that they overpower dialogue and effects.
This disc’s extras boil down to a series of brief, fluffy featurettes/EPKs. These include Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths (2:30, HD), Colin Farrell as Marty (1:30, HD), Woody Harrelson is Charlie (1:30, HD), and Crazy Locations (2:10, HD). These include clips from the film, brief behind the scenes footage, and press tour interviews with McDonagh, production designer David Wasco, cinematographer Ben Davis, producer Graham Broadbent, and cast members Farrell, Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Harrelson, and Walken. Also included is a spoof trailer, Seven Psychocats (1:30, HD), other Sony release trailers, and a footage mash-up (1:00, HD).
Sony’s ad campaign really didn’t do Seven Psychopaths any favours. It’s not the madcap action frolic those trailers and TV spots implied – it’s a thoughtful, relatively complex, post-modern character study, and maybe even the most underrated film of 2012. The real irony is that Michael McDonagh’s film seems to have been made as something of a satire of the kind of films it was advertised as being. I’m not surprised it didn’t make very much money at the box office. This Blu-ray looks and sounds very good, but is limited by the film’s grainy, overexposed look and its thin, quiet sound design. The extras are the only disappointment.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays/DVDs and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 29th January 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths, Colin Farrell is Marty, Woody Harrelson is Charlie, Crazy Locations, Seven Psychocats, Layers, Trailers, UltraViolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama and Film-Noir
Length: 110 minutes