Less would have been more

Seven Psychopaths **1/2

Martin McDonagh was a post-Pulp Fiction playwright (his trilogy of plays that made his reputation started with The Cripple of Inishmaan in 1997) and he’s now become a post-post-Pulp Fiction filmmaker. You could always see the influence of that filmand Tarantino more generally – in his plays: the dialogue, the juxtaposition between violence and humour, the character types. But McDonagh’s brilliant feature debut, In Bruges (2008) seemed more original: it was influenced by Tarantino, for sure, but had its own voice; it wasn’t Two Days in the Valley, Suicide Kings, or any of the multitude of Tarantino ripoffs that followed like so many bloody corpses in the late 90s. A shame, then, that Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh’s second feature, is so blatantly “in the style of” Tarantino, taking pains to construct a complex temporal structure around a very simple story of bad men in Los Angeles seeking a stolen dog. The film makes no attempt at realism: Woody Harrelson’s Bad Guy – note the goatee and tattoo – is completely a fabrication, a movie image of a Bad Guy, with no real teeth, because he’s such a caricature. But that’s the point, I guess, because the whole thing is so meta: the film’s hero is an Irish screenwriter deliberately named Martin (Colin Farrell), struggling to write a Tarantino-like film without a shootout at the end. All this self-referential stuff is laboured and not nearly as funny as it thinks it is – until the final twenty minutes, which work like a charm. Unfortunately, we’ve been asked to wallow through some stolen and just plain boring material by then. There’s a snappy eighty-minute movie lurking within these two hours, but in its current edit, it’s indulgent, to the audience’s detriment. Christopher Walken, as a dog thief, steals the show.

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