Seven Psychopaths – 4.5 stars

There are precious few good movies about making movies  Tropic Thunder is uproariously funny, a brutal send up of dozens of Hollywood tropes, which get a less raucous going over in Get ShortyThe Player reveals a Hollywood machinery that routinizes art, creating a war of sorts between the suits (Tim Robbins) and the creativity.  A Cock and Bull Story and Adaptation are examples closer to Seven Psychopaths, in that you don’t necessarily know where the movie and the “movie in a movie” begins and ends.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges was a surprising dark comedy about the philosophical doubts of hitmen as they tracked each other in the beautiful Belgian city.  In  Bruges marked McDonagh as a Quentin Taranatino disciple, but his dialogue was meatier, more complex and less reliant on pop culture diversions.

In Seven Psychopaths, the setting is LA, where McDonagh veers deeper into Tarantino-country.  His characters, however, retain the penchant for discussing deep moral and meditative matters as they negotiate an increasingly circuitous plot.  An actor (Sam Rockwell) tries to motivate his screenwriter friend (Colin Farrell) who is listlessly working on a script entitled “Seven Psychopaths.”  Farrell, despondent over the exploitative, repetive crap of violent pictures, has taken to drink at the thought of writing another.  Rockwell, however, is a proponent of the genre Ferrell seeks to escape, creatively urging a shoot ’em up with a blazing guns finale.  To that end, he puts out an ad in the “LA Weekly” inviting real psycopaths to come see Farrell and provide their stories.  Concurrently, Rockwell and an older gentleman (Christopher Walken) run a scam where they steal dogs and return them for rewards.  When they steal the beloved shih tzu of a real psycopath (Woody Harrelson). the script and reality meld.

I first took note of Sam Rockwell in Galaxy Quest, a very funny ensemble comedy which he completely stole.  He has the face of a supporting player, not quite Steve Buscemi odd, but one is often reminded of a rat gnawing on cheese.  Looks aside, which probably deny him leading status, Rockwell is a kinetic yet soulful actor, either riffing or expressing a heartfelt need to be understood.  Walken brings his trademark quirkiness, Harrelson his jovial menace, and Farrell, playing the straight man, his increasing frustration.  But the movie belongs to Rockwell, who blends psychoses with the LA surface cool of an aspiring actor/writer.  His performance is hilarious.

The preview portrays  the film as zanier than it really is.  There are a bunch of funny set-ups and coincidences, but McDonagh provides a sharp commentary on movies and contemporary LA.  He has also written some clever scenes where the characters toss around their screenplay ideas and in the process, write the movie before our eyes.  It’s a neat, meticulous trick.

If there is a weakness, it is the part of the film where the characters appear to suffer writer’s block, and in response, run off to Joshua Tree National Park to reflect (Walken takes peyote). The movie drags a bit at this point, but not for long.

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