Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh, 2012)

By Dean, Joan FitzPatrick | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh, 2012)


Dean, Joan FitzPatrick, Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


In 2012, Martin McDonagh returned to the big screen with his second feature Seven Psychopaths, a film set in Los Angeles and immersed in American culture but hardly devoid of things Irish. Colin Farrell returns as McDonagh's leading man, Marty, here playing a character who has much in common with his creator and director: He's called Marty; he is writing a screenplay; he lives in Los Angeles. Most importantly, he's trying to move beyond the cliches of film violence, to be done with "violence, guns, all the usual bullshit". On occasion, Marty's friend, Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), employs a stage Irish dialect in one of the film's forays into self-conscious sentimentality ("Ah, bejesus, sure, you're me best friend"). Charlie derides both Marty's pacifism and his ethnicity: "You don't believe in guns? They ain't fucking leprechauns, you dumb Mick". Perhaps most memorably, Billy cautions Marty about his drinking: "It's part of your heritage ... You're fucked from birth. The Spanish have got bullfighting. The French got cheese. The Irish have got alcoholism."

McDonagh's theatre audiences will recognize features of the plays that insinuate themselves throughout Seven Psychopaths. Again, as in A Behanding in Spokane, McDonagh portrays interracial couples: Myra (Linda Bright Clay) and Hans (Christopher Walken) as well as Maggie (Amanda Warren) and Zachariah (Tom Waits). Again, we witness horrific violence, including the dismemberment of a corpse with a saw. The badly injured Mairtin in A Skull in Connemara averred that "hospitals are for poofs, sure" (62); here Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson) reports that "Peace is for queers" and Marty is quoted as saying dream sequences in films are "for fags". Just as Mad Padraig's deepest love in The Lieutenant of Inishmore was for his tabby cat, Wee Thomas, the most violent psychopath among many, Charlie, is besotted by his Shih Tzu named Bonny. Like McDonagh's earlier work, Seven Psychopaths is structured like a matryoshka doll: smaller stories nest in larger ones. The Pillowman, for instance, embeds nine of Katurian's gruesome fairy tales; Seven Psychopaths contains flashbacks of Hans and Myra as revenge stalkers and of Zachariah and Maggie as serial killers of serial killers.

McDonagh again creates a dense network of allusions to cinematic history that runs from Takeshi Kitano's Violent Cop (1989) back through The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola 1972) and Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese 1976) to Howard Hawks. He hilariously rejuvenates the cliches of tough-guy dialogue ("Throw your guns down or the alcoholic gets it"). The final shootout, often referred to and anticipated as the final shootout, unfolds in the badlands of Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert, a landscape and situation visually evocative of John Huston's The Treasure of Sierra Madre (although Huston's film was one of the first US films shot entirely on location). Seven Psychopaths is, from its opening shot of the HOLLYWOOD sign, a movie about movies. When Billy asks what happens to the seven psychopaths at the end, Marty confesses "I don't know what happens to them at the beginning".

Seven Psychopaths ventures into a self-referentiality that explores McDonagh's weaknesses as a writer and filmmaker. On occasion, his characters simply spring from a captivating mental picture: "I just like the image of a Vietnamese guy in a priest's outfit with a snub-nosed 44", says Marty. Although McDonagh's Irish plays were populated by egg-smashing or rifle-wielding colleens and a savage mother-daughter pairing in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, his women characters in The Pillowman, A Behanding in Spokane, and In Bruges receded in clarity and dimensionality. After perusing Marty's screenplay, Hans describes Marty's women characters as "awful ... they get shot or stabbed in five minutes. Most of the ones I know", says Hans, "can string a sentence together".

Like In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths has the trappings and baggage of a buddy movie, a term that McDonagh himself has used to describe the depiction of the relationship between Marty and Billy: "decency, love for each other should be palpable throughout" (Interview with Kurt Andersen, Studio 360, National Public Radio, 25 October 2012). …

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