Back in 2008, IN BRUGES was one of that years biggest surprises. It was a dark comedy that had just as many shocks as it did laughs. That was writer/director Martin McDonagh’s debut film, and after I saw it I was very much looking forward to what he was going to dish up next. Well, after 4 years, the wait is finally over. I was really excited for this movie, however, when I saw the first trailer for it I got worried. It looked a little too silly, like those bad Pulp Fiction rip-offs from the 90’s like 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG. I was hoping that the trailers were just wrong.
Like a Tarantino film, there are a slew of eccentric characters. Colin Farrell plays a struggling screenwriter named Marty. He’s working on a script titled SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, but the only thing he has written is the title. His best friend, Billy (Sam Rockwell), is a two-bit thug who kidnaps dogs and then returns them for the reward money. Billy also has a partner named Hans (Christopher Walken) who is using the money they make to fund his wife’s cancer treatment. Things get out of hand when Billy snatches a Shih Tzu that belongs to a crazy gangster named Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Charlie will do anything and everything to get his dog back, including tracking down friends and family of Billy and Hans. Of course, Marty gets mixed up into this fiasco all the while Billy is desperately trying to help him with his script.
The synopsis by itself DOES sound like one of those uninspired, 90’s Tarantino rip offs. Fortunately, on the screen, it doesn’t come across that way at all. McDonagh is a very smart writer. The dialogue has originality and pop to it. Most of the characters are a hoot too, and every actor seems to be relishing in the terrific lines their director has created. The story isn’t all that creative, but the execution is. McDonagh is more interested in the details than the big picture, and it works for this movie. The opening scene sets up the story perfectly as 2 thugs argue about trivial things using clever dialogue, all the while a masked figure appears behind them. And then, BANG! BANG! They’re dead! And the filmmakers don’t shy away from the violence either. This is a very graphically violent movie, which gives the movie an even darker tone than the trailers suggest, thank God! You’ll be laughing one minute, and then the next minute McDonagh slaps you in the face with something horrific. There are even a few moving moments in the film, none of which I will spoil for you.
The actors really make this picture work. Farrell (who was also in BRUGES) plays Martin with a manic and paranoid energy. There are some laugh-out-loud moments when he freaks out at the outlandish situations he ends up in. Sam Rockwell is doing his thing, but it suits the character perfectly here. One of the highlights of the film is when he explains how he thinks Marty’s movie should end… with the biggest shootout in film history. That had me on the floor with laughter. Be ready for that! Christopher Walken does have some goofy “Walken” moments, but I was surprised by how much emotion and depth he put into his performance. It was a real treat seeing him act again. Woody Harrelson gives a familiar performance as the silly, but violently harsh villain, but it’s a lot fun. There is also great work from Michael Stuhlbarg, Harry Dean Stanton, Gabourey Sidibe, Zeljko Ivanek, and Tom Waits. If there was a disappointment in the movie I would say that the women characters (Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko) aren’t really well written, but it doesn’t really matter too much since they actually address that in the movie.
And that brings me to the writing. This script is fantastic! The reason why it is so unique is because McDonagh uses the character of Marty to write certain scenarios for characters that are fictitious and we get to see them on the screen. It’s these movie-within-a-movie sequences that make fun of all the clichés that we are seeing or about to see on screen. This reminded me a lot of ADAPTATION, with the way it goes back and forth between reality and fiction. The script has a great structure to it. McDonagh understands how important it is to constantly shake up the viewer, so he will occasionally throw in an unexpected explosion or a scene of sudden violence to interrupt a quiet scene. I totally ate it up!
Man, I wish I could go into details on some certain scenes, but I don’t want to give anything away. I will say that my favorite moment in the movie involves Harrelson’s character friendly talking to another character that he may or may not kill. It’s a really effective, suspenseful moment. There are a few moments like this actually. The ending might boggle a few people, but it was a fitting end, even if it was a tad anti-climatic. But then again, they address that too. This movie is one step ahead of you at all times.
While not quite as good as IN BRUGES, this is easily one of the best written movies of the year. I laughed my ass off, gasped a few times, and even teared up once. I have a feeling that this is going to have a cult following in the near future. You know, like how BOONDOCK SAINTS has a cult following. Well, except that this movie is actually good. It’s like a BOONDOCK SAINTS for people who have good taste in movies.
★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.
Running time: 1hr 50min.