Christopher Walken as a peyote drinker. Tom Waits as a serial killer of serial killers. Colin Farrell as a screenwriter.
In my mind, this is some of the best filmmaking and screenwriting you’ll come across these days in the world of mass market distribution. I don’t think it’s for everybody, but it’s not pretentious or intellectual, or even worse, moralistic. If you stop and think for one second about what film is, from a philosophical standpoint, and if you wonder about what makes a good story, and are curious about the mechanics of the creative process, then you will most likely enjoy this ride.
Colin Farrell is a writer who is struggling with his new screenplay titled “Seven Psychopaths”, a story about seven killers. That’s pretty much all he’s got so far. His friend, Sam Rockwell, is trying to help him write it, but to no avail. Farrell is unsure whether he should make it violent, or whether he should use it to promote peace and understanding. He has a few characters already figured out, two of which were Rockwell’s idea, but his own excessive drinking prevents him from making further progress, and soon enough his girlfriend kicks him out of the house and he’s forced to stay with Rockwell.
In the meanwhile, Rockwell and Walken are con artists running a dog kidnapping business, where they kidnap dogs and return it to their owners for a fee. One deal goes bad and they soon find themselves running from a very real psychopath (played by Woody Harrelson) intent on getting back his beloved Shih Tzu.
The way the story is told is full of cutaways to other stories, some real, some fictional, but always riffing on what is a good or bad idea, and what comes from life as opposed to what is invented.
The truth is that Farrell is not a very good writer. He’s selfish, enamored with the idea of being a good writer, instead of actually becoming one. He plays the moral crusader who believes that the world should be inherently good. Luckily, he’s got a few friends who are way smarter than him and who for some reason love him enough to teach him a thing or two about the reality of the world he lives in.
There is a killer on the loose, with apparently no motivation. Tom Waits stops by to tell a Bonnie and Clyde type of story about a couple who kill serial killers together. This story is a reflection of Christopher Walken’s own love story with his dying wife. Everybody leads double, triple, lives. Everybody, except Colin Farrell, who fails to see that everything he needs is right in front of him. It will take the entire movie, but at last the veil will be lifted, but not without some dear lives lost.
There are many levels at which you can read this movie. I’d like to address the violence issue. When you see a movie about guns, where characters kill senselessly just for the cinematic thrill, this is what Farrell is against. He doesn’t want to write that kind of story, although he ends up doing just that, because he ends up living just that. So the only way he can justify violence is if he realistically can relate to it. So he gets tangled up in a violent story (with the help of his friends), so that he ends up writing a violent story, because that’s what successful writers are supposed to do.
Well, I think you don’t need to live a violent story to understand that violence is very real. (And I don’t think only violent movies can be successful). However, violence at the movies is not real at all. Some movies are just bad stories, riddled with violent scenes. They don’t necessarily make good movies.
The world and movies are two different things. Your personal life and storytelling are two different things. Unfortunately, we do get them tangled up. We do end up believing that what we witness on a screen when we pay 14$ to sit down for two hours, is related to what goes on outside in the streets of our cities, and that maybe they influence each other.
I believe, believe, there is a spiritual war at work, at all times. The good want a peaceful evolution of the species with a positive spiritual agenda, while the bad want increased stress, psychological trauma, and the ultimate breakdown of goodness. Having said that, not everybody is ready to fight in this war. Some of us are just observers. Peaceful units of insight and reflection. So violence in movies is not part of any problem at all, I think. It’s simply a reaction to a problem that’s already bigger, and older, than the technology we use today to make moving images flicker on a screen. In other words, the world has been violent, way before movies were able to poke fun at it.
So if you’re worried, understandably, about violence in cinema. Please watch this. It was meant for you. It will reassure you that it is okay to be worried, but also that perhaps your worry has been misplaced.
I think I’ve made a new friend today, Martin McDonagh, we seem to see eye to eye. I can’t wait to find out where he’ll go next.