Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Seven Psychopaths; the difficult second mess

There comes a point when you bundle up all the notes and blind alleys, spread them out in a row in front of you, and face up to the fact that it's not going to come together. Or, if you're Martin McDonagh, you look at the cast of titans waiting for you to shit lightning, and you wing it anyhow.

In Bruges is a surprisingly good movie, in that it's always surprising to see a movie written and directed by a playwright do anything other than gently waft the self esteem of the dozen or so aesthetes in each city that troop out to watch it. The other surprising thing about it is that it's only - the last time I checked - the 200th sweariest movie ever made, despite the fact that the DVD comes with an optional cut with nothing but the swearing that runs for longer than more Road Runner cartoons. Anyhow, when some mad Irish guy with serious cultural credibility commits the faux pas of making a movie which people paid to see, there's nothing for it but a Hollywood followup.

Seven Psychopaths is just that follow up, and as second endeavours go … well, it's a second endeavour. It helps you see why you liked the first one, and makes you kind of wish they'd stopped there. I realised that the carrying cast of In Bruges were playing characters who were somehow likeable despite being appalling. The characters in Seven Psychopaths aren't likeable. Well, Christopher Walken is likeable, but Chris Walken is never less than awesome, and if they'd asked him to be a proper cold-hearted psycho as well, he'd have made everyone else look like amateurs. Unlikeable amateurs. For the rest, Colin Farrell is his usual self, which is somehow less cool than usual, Woody Harrelson is an irredeemable asshole, and Sam Rockwell is the guy I've still never seen play a sane or reasonable person. One of these days I'm going to see him in a romantic comedy and I'll be spending the whole thing waiting for him to joint the rest of the cast like chickens.

Which is all the fault of the writing, because man, this thing is written to death. If it was any more aware of itself as a fiction, there'd be subtitles and a cartoon of Jacques Derrida in the bottom of the frame signing out the deconstruction of conventional narrative. Usually I complain that they spent the budget on bullets instead of writers, but I see that my thesis may need to make room for exceptions. The last thing I saw that was this much about how tough it is to write for the movies, it was the Coen Brothers' equally messy Barton Fink, except that this feels like they filmed Fink's notes instead of his struggles, plus it completely lacks the lunatic panache John Goodman brought to the climax.

Writers pride themselves on their insights into the world around them, but it seems to elude them that no-one really cares that much about writers. Until they succeed, they're whiny little neurotics squirrelling away imaginary worlds and drinking too much, and once they made it big time, they're just ridiculously articulate neurotic millionaires; either way, most people have got better things to worry about, and really, you'd think those keenly honed writerly senses would pick up on that.

So, to save you some time; pretty much everyone gets killed. There are just a boatload of sequences which turn out to be dreams, fantasies, outright lies or just fakeouts. There's one piece with hit-men talking quasi-articulate pop cultural nonsense right at the beginning, which ends up with them both getting shot in the head (take that, Tarantino, I suppose), and in many ways that might be the high point - especially for most of the people who trooped in full of happy memories of In Bruges and two hit-men being quasi-articulate for the whole movie. Most of the people you meet after that get killed, usually for no really good reason, and then the movie has a long dull bit where Colin Farrell, Chris Walken and Sam Rockwell hole up in the desert and argue with each other about nothing, which is not as compelling as that line up, scripted by that director, would have led me to expect. Then, some more wilfully bathetic shoot-out stuff, and it stutters to a halt. There's a credits gag which is - unlike most credits gags - pretty clever, if you've last long enough to see the credits. It's been set up beautifully, and it is ABOUT the credits; if only the rest of the movie was that well crafted.

With any luck at all, Martin McDonagh has got Hollywood out of his system now.

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