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movies / October 14, 2012
By Eileen Jones


Seven Psychopaths is one of those movies that’s too cute by half. If I hadn’t been so fried, I’d have paid more heed to the warning signs—the arch title, the “quirky” poster images, the fact that Tom Waits is in it—and given the whole thing a miss.

But you know how it is when you’ve been roughed up by life a lot lately, and you just want to forget it for two hours. You look for a convenient screening time and take your chances. (Shoulda gone for Taken 2!)

Seven Psychopaths is a movie about a screenwriter trying to write a script called Seven Psychopaths, only he’s got writer’s block, so he spends the whole movie struggling to write the movie you happen to be sitting through at the time.

And there are people who like that sort of thing.  I just don’t happen to be one of them.

Somehow when it comes to self-reflexivity in films, every year I get sicker of it. Maybe from being in academia, where people are so enamored of it, you’d think every time a film refers to itself, an angel gets its wings.

(I make exceptions for stuff like Rear Window and Barton Fink and Inglourious Basterds because some filmmakers are covered by the Genius Clause, which states, “If you’re truly gifted, you’re allowed to attempt generally objectionable things–but you better be truly gifted!”)

In the movie the screenwriter is named Marty–presumably as in Martin McDonagh, the actual writer-director of Seven Psychopaths–and he’s an alcoholic Irishman fittingly played by Colin Farrell, McDonagh’s go-to lead from his last feature In Bruges. Farrell’s pretty good here; in fact, all the actors are pretty good, and the whole movie’s an Act-Off amongst interesting thespian combos. That’s basically what makes it endurable at all, other than the nice desert scenery. Christopher Walken’s lofty hair and fathomless eye, and Woody Harrelson’s popping energy, and Sam Rockwell’s despicable puling creepiness, and Harry Dean Stanton’s raw-boned 19th century nobility, and Michael Stuhlbarg’s prim precision…

The Act-Offs are all organized around the comic-violent encounters of colorful characters saying vivid things, a modus operandi long since made familiar by the infinitely superior works of the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino. But, y’know, kids, don’t try this at home, because it’s not so easy to pull off. And 99% of the time McDonagh doesn’t pull it off.  He opens with a scene of two mob hit-men (Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Pitt) discussing various mundane business-related things like how much skill it takes to shoot someone in the eyeball, as well as the job they’re about to do, which is killing some woman. (Later on, McDonagh will mock his own tendency to kill off women characters before they even get a chance to talk.)

As soon as this first scene starts, you think, with maximum jadedness, “Ho-jeez, here we go, THIS again. Tarantino’s old Royale-with-Cheese scene done for the millionth time.”

Then up walks a guy wearing a red mask who shoots both of them in the eyeballs, and you feel a surge of affection for this guy. He might be your savior in this film if he cuts short all the tiresome scenes like this!

Anyway, he’s one of the seven psychopaths. The movie keeps intermittent count of them with superimposed titles, “Psychopath No. 3,” that sort of thing, that refer back to the list screenwriter Marty is compiling for his script. Most of his ideas for psychopaths are taken from his pal Billy (Sam Rockwell) who’s a needy friend trying to get ever closer to Marty by collaborating on his screenplay and busting up Marty’s relationship with his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish).

Billy knows a suspicious lot of stories about psychopaths. These stories have a way of “coming true” as the two friends meet more characters who fall into place as psychopaths Billy already described. There’s one funny scene when Marty is repeating one of Billy’s psychopath stories to a new acquaintance and Billy keeps trying to prevent him from getting to the punch line because the new acquaintance IS the psychopath in question.

Billy makes a living as a dognapper, aided by an elderly gent named Hans (Christopher Walken). They steal dogs, then return them for the reward, which is easy lucrative work till they happen to steal the beloved Shih Tzu belonging to a raging gangster named Charlie (Woody Harrelson, supposedly in for Mickey Rourke who wisely dropped out).

God, it’s boring even typing all this out.  I mean, aren’t we done with this stuff? Wasn’t this a ‘90s thing?

Adding insult to injury, McDonagh even writes into the script how boring it is. He has Hans say to Marty, something like, “Don’t you think psychopaths get tiresome after a while?”

That’s when I especially wanted to punch McDonagh. Because you can’t get out of it like that. You can’t make your rotten screenplay good by having a character in it refer ironically to the fact that it’s rotten.

But the whole movie’s riddled with that crap. Marty keeps blathering on about how he wants his Seven Psychopaths script to be about peace, in the end, so then you know you have to sit there till the damn thing winds around to some bogus theme about peace. It’s an awful moment when Marty says he doesn’t want to end the screenplay with a big shoot-out—that’s Billy’s idea—he want it to spend a long third act just on the characters talking to each other. And since Marty and Billy are warring with each other over control of the script (here McDonagh’s ripping off the twin brother/alter-ego authors in Adaptation, one fighting for crass commercialism in the script, one for high-minded significance), you groan inwardly with the realization that you’re going to have to endure BOTH, the long third act of talking, then the shoot-out.

The long third act time-out takes place in Joshua Tree, the favorite location of drug-taking vacationers from Los Angeles who want nice scenery when they drop acid. There our three main characters, Marty, Billy, and Hans, camp out and talk and bond, hiding from the pursuing gangsters led by wild-eyed Charlie. This part rips off Takeshi Kitano films—there are multiple layers of theft going on at this point. Takeshi Kitano films often have vacation sequences in which even the toughest, most violent men rediscover their basic individuality and friendliness in conversation and horseplay, before having to go back to their regular lives and take up their now-burdensome roles as stone-faced killers.

Only—and here’s the key difference—when Takeshi Kitano does it, it’s GOOD.

There’s a little clip of a Takeshi Kitano film early in Seven Psychopaths, in case you weren’t going to guess the source of the rip-off. Yeah, McDonagh’s always right up in your face, bragging about all the lame things he’s doing.

I can sum up this film by telling you that it features Tom Waits as a psychopath who’s always cuddling a white rabbit, and that in the tale of serial killing psychopathology Waits tells, white rabbits multiply and appear everywhere in fluffier and cuter herds among the blood-letting. By the fifteenth appearance of a white bunny, hopping and sniffing and twitching adorably, you want to curse God and die, like Job’s wife advised Job to do.

I always thought Job’s wife was pretty sharp.




Add your own

  • 1. radii  |  October 14th, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    dang. I wanted this to be good since Rockwell, Walken and even Farrell always do something, er, interesting … but I can’t say I’m surprised – it didn’t look like there was much story there in the trailers, just the “act-offs” Eileen referenced … better to re-watch Lawn Dogs for Rockwell (a terrific, much-underrated American story), Man on Fire, King of New York or the Prophecy for first-rate Walken

  • 2. John Drinkwater  |  October 14th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    I’ll still watch it. In Bruges was great, and this movie is generating a lot of controversial reviews. Many people disliked In Bruges, too, which is hard for me to understand. For whatever reason, McDonagh drives some people crazy, including Eileen.

    The tip off for me is Eileen’s assertion that Inglorious Basterds compares favorably to…anything. In Bruges was far better than anything Tarantino’s done since Pulp Fiction. If we can’t agree on that, then I might end up loving Seven Psychopaths, despite the warnings in this review.

  • 3. Arthur  |  October 14th, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Well, I’ll put it this way. I genuinely loved In Bruges despite the ham-fisted sacrificial ending of Brendan Gleeson. This movie, however, is really tedious and meandering.

  • 4. Vacuity and Depravity  |  October 14th, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    After a few sentences I stopped reading this review – even though I love Eileen Jones’s work – because it became clear that knowing anything specific at all about this film is a waste of brain space. It can be fun to watch Eileen taking down a movie that I know I will never watch, but there are limits.

    A “characters in search of a plot” type of film, where the characters are murderous psychopaths? It sounds like a masturbation fantasy for someone who holds cinematic audiences in contempt. “OK, the curtains are drawn, time to indulge my favorite fantasy of movie-goers eagerly humiliating themselves… What degrading option will I go for today? The usual choice is between vacuity and depravity. Vacuity: give them a whole lot of nothing, but they think it’s something. Depravity: show them people and acts so disgusting that they can’t look away. Which will it be … I could go for vacuity, I wish I could get away with art-school crap like 90 minutes of a camera pointed at a mirror, but I can only get off on the thought of something aimed at the mass market, like a film about filmmaking … Or it would be cool if somehow you could make a film and they all started killing each other in the audience. That would be cool, but again, I need some realism in my fantasy, so I have to settle for just one or two imitation killers, like that Joker psychopath … Ohmygod, what if I made a film about my own fantasies, a film about making a film that inspires killers. Vacuity AND depravity, plus it’s all about me, that’s so hot, what a concept. OK, now I have to dilute it, make it realistic, so it’s not explicitly about me, but it’s still a film about a film about psychopaths … OK, so there’s a scriptwriter, and he wants to include psychopaths in his film. But what do they do in the film? I don’t know, can’t think of anything. Oh, but the scriptwriter is secretly me. So I don’t know what the psychopaths should be doing, so the scriptwriter in the film doesn’t know what the psychopaths should be doing… That’s retarded, why would anyone watch a film like that… Ohmygod, Italo Calvino!! It’s not just the writer who can’t decide what the fuck to do, it’s the psychopath-characters themselves! Yes, yes, take it you pitiful specimens of middlebrow humanity, pay to spend 90 minutes deliberately immersing yourself in my fantasy of humiliating you, through your own choice, at your own expense, without even … realizing … it … ungh!”

  • 5. Fuzzbutt  |  October 14th, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Еб psycholpaths! The vote from the Oktyabristye claque is all for “Pulp Snapper” . . . the epic with Heather Lagenkamp and Freddie Mercury.

  • 6. marc  |  October 14th, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Wait, you think Tarantino is a genius or at least clever enough? You want to talk about self gratifying masturbation in shitty movies yet you think Tarantino is clever enough?

    Given Reservoir Dogs, Natural Born Killers and Pulp (gag) Fiction were pretty good but none of his movies after them have ever had enough of an effect on me to make me want to watch them again.

    Wow, something about Mrs. Jones articles put a bug up my ass. That’s cuz I am a commentard.

  • 7. skullsneedtobecrushed  |  October 14th, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    @6 Wait, you think Natural Born Killers was pretty good?

    Reservoir Dogs was ok, except for that ear slicing bit. That was clearly written by a guy with a popcorn ceiling and a favorite soda pop.

    Pastiche Fiction was a fine homage collage of the many great films Tarantino loves to cadge from. It ruined surf music, but hey…

    But Natural Born Killers was just a turkey.

  • 8. franc black  |  October 14th, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Shoulda gone for Here Comes the Boom. It has a lot of the emotional plot obviousness that we’ve all come to hate, but it does it in a tasteful way. And REALLY funny in some parts.

  • 9. Jacob  |  October 14th, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    @7 keep your pretentious film-school affectations off of here will ya.

  • 10. skullsneedtobecrushed  |  October 15th, 2012 at 2:54 am

    Hey, Jacob – what’s your favorite Ed Norton film?

  • 11. Zoner  |  October 15th, 2012 at 6:51 am

    In Bruges was funny, but I guess it was mostly due to Colin Farrell. I wouldn’t pay to watch this movie, but maybe I’ll download it someday just because Eileen says he’s good here.

    Also, that thumbnail is misleading, I was afraid for a moment that Takeshi Kitano had made a boring movie about psychopaths.

  • 12. Willard  |  October 15th, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Dad let me see this. “Seven Psychopaths for Seven Brothers.” O my—I got to see some ankle and couldn’t stop jerking off into my Mom’s mouth. I won’t begin to tell you what happened when I went with a goy to see “the Seven Samurai Fight the Seven Psychopaths” in France. Ooo La La Sassoon!

  • 13. Jacob  |  October 15th, 2012 at 1:31 pm


    trying way too hard.

  • 14. ribbon  |  October 15th, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    @6 and @7.

    Natural Born Killers was Oliver Stone, dudes. Not Tarantino.

  • 15. earnest  |  October 15th, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    This pretty much confirms what worried me about the previews; this is a light, silly, Americanized popcorn flick.

    I love Takeshi Kitano’s films. They are brutal and crushing, but at the same time they revel in ordinary and even pedestrian things, to the point of sometimes finding beauty, and sometimes making you feel very small. It’s art, and it’s genius. Hollywood doesn’t produce much art these days.

  • 16. st  |  October 16th, 2012 at 9:13 am

    When will Eileen review Looper?

  • 17. Hamsterfist  |  October 16th, 2012 at 12:00 pm


    Better check the writing credits. Dude.

  • 18. Adam  |  October 17th, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Ames, I know that you’ve been criticizing Obama a lot, but being a libertard myself, I ignore your criticisms of Obama but I flip out whenever I see you criticize Romney. Really, I lose my frickin marbles and think I’m somehow being “independent” without realizing I’m a Romneybot. Or maybe I’m just retarded enough to think that I can shame you into not criticizing Romney anymore, because criticizing Romney is not cool, and if it’s not cool, then I’m cool.


  • 19. Adam  |  October 18th, 2012 at 5:22 am


    Sorry, Ames. I apologize for this Romneybot 3.7 b glitch. New Media Strategies is working on a patch. Will be back with a better zinger next time!

  • 20. darthfader  |  October 18th, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Could Jones or Brecher please take this dickbender behind the woodshed

  • 21. Marius  |  October 20th, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Stopped reading after the reference to Inglorious Bastards. PoS movie, I lost all respect to Tarantino, Pitt and Roth and promised myself to never watch anything they make afterwards (at least in the theater). So here you go…

  • 22. The Gubbler  |  October 20th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    When I’m feeling blue, nothing cheers me up like getting a six-pack and watching “The World Of Suzie Wong” again.

    Its restorative powers are amazing for goodness sake!!!

  • 23. gatorade  |  October 25th, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I should have listened to Eileen. @4 has totally nailed it. I saw this, because every other movie wasn’t starting for an hourish, and it’s one of the absolute worst movies I’ve ever seen

  • 24. NDJ  |  October 26th, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Stopped reading as soon as you referred to Tarantino as a genius. Stop reviewing films. Jesus.

  • 25. Zhu Bajie  |  October 26th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    I just re-watched Godzilla vs King Kong. Maybe the USA needs more big bug movies.

  • 26. korman643  |  October 26th, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    @4 Sorry, what the hell has poor Italo Calvino to do with this mess?

  • 27. Thankssomuch  |  October 28th, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    “I mean, aren’t we done with this stuff? Wasn’t this a ‘90s thing?”

    My sentiments exactly about this film!

  • 28. chaosium  |  October 29th, 2012 at 6:34 am

    This whole movie seemed like an Irishman’s revenge for Boondock Saints.

  • 29. John Drinkwater  |  November 9th, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Alright, Eileen, you were right about this one. I still think In Bruges is far better than anything Tarantino has done since Pulp Fiction, but Seven Psychopaths is a dud. Or, I just didn’t get it.

    The only interesting aspect of the movie is Sam Rockwell’s character and Sam Rockwell. It’s hard to know where Rockwell’s character ends and Rockwell as Rockwell begins. He was fun to watch, but he was stuck in a movie that is empty and pointless. But much worse than that — a movie that simply isn’t funny. What happened to all the clever, witty dialogue from In Bruges? I laughed once or twice at Rockwell being ridiculous, but that’s it, and I didn’t laugh hard; it was more out of politeness than anything else.

    What a huge fucking disappointment this movie is. Woody Harrelson sucks — who decided this guy was good anyway?

  • 30. HeckRock  |  February 17th, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Wow you couldn’t have been more wrong. This was a great movie. Excellent story, excellent plot, & not too bad on the funny parts either. You guys seriously need to lighten up, & I’m a VERY picky moviegoer.

  • 31. Marc V  |  May 17th, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    This film never should have been made. And I dont kn ow if its a Google search thing, but the critics who liked this brain cell dropper out weighed the fans by far. Even Christopher Walken, who should have had the biggest part in the movie to give it any hope couldnt save it. And yes, this was a watered down Tarrentino thing that wasnt in any way funny in the part it was supposed to. Like someone really lazy in editing just cut out enough pieces to get it under 2 hrs and said…”OK, that’s a rap.” One critic says the funniest line in the flick is “Just because I’m holding a rabbit all the time, that’s why you cant take me seriously?” They have to be kidding.

    And Woody Harerelson playing an “Italian” mob guy? What is wrong with casting. This is not natural born killers. If Woody made this flick first, we’d never have heard of him!!! And Colin Farrell just going along with his friend putting an ad in the newspaper for “Psychopaths Wanted” to get someone to help Colin write his fictional book about them? Unbelievably unbelievable! Give this movie to anyone you want to cause grief to and give them a really baaaad day. This is a movie after its over, unless you dont get out of the house much, you should be saying……”I gave 2 hrs of my life to watch this?” Pass!

  • 32. John  |  November 25th, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Wow. This is some of the most prenetious bullshit reviewing I’ve ever read. Sorry to tell you that not every film is a masterpiece. This film is entertaining, and that’s what movies should be. If all you got out of it was hang ups on self-referencing and a packed cast, you must not be able to enjoy life. This movie is fun for those who want to relax and watch a fun movie. It’s not for the cynics. These two hours were well spent. Two hours I’ll never get back were while watching Jeepers Creepers. That’s a worthless movie that wasn’t entertaining. But I suppose you’d put 7 P’s in the same bin as J.C’s. Cheer up, lighten up, and allow yourself to have some fun. That’s the review I have for you.

  • 33. Taps  |  December 25th, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I agree with the review, I really struggled watching the film. Worst for me was all the lines, mainly by Rockwell, that are supposed to be funny but just arent enough to evoke a laugh. I watched the film with four people. We nearly stopped it after about 30 minutes. About two thirds the way through the film,it goes into Scary Movie territory which did evoke some laughs. But geez it was a long wait to get there. Ands its the absurdity mixed with graphic violence that is relied on. Maybe this kind of film suits others tastes more than I.

  • 34. Jeffronimo  |  February 6th, 2014 at 7:33 am

    By your review and your comments regarding the ‘exceptions you make for Barton Fink, Inglorious Basterds, and Rear Window”, I can have my comment improved by the AEC.

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