Crazy Hearts, by David Bax

Far be it from me to say that a filmmaker shouldn’t be enacting some sort of therapy session when he or she makes a film. In fact, I’d wager most of the great films of all time (as well as most of the good ones and the crappy ones) were therapeutic for their creators. With Seven Psychopaths, though, writer/director Martin McDonagh has forgotten that a film needs to be worthwhile for its audience as well as its auteur.

Colin Farrell plays an Irish screenwriter named Marty (little subterfuge there) who is undergoing a crisis of self-definition. He is contracted to turn in a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths but is no longer interested in writing about the kind of violence that has been his trademark. As a result, he’s drinking far too much and destroying his relationship with his girlfriend, Kaya (Abbie Cornish). Suddenly, he finds himself with some time to think about these issues when he’s forced to go into hiding with his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Billy’s cohort, Hans (Christopher Walken). Billy and Hans have made a business out of kidnapping people’s dogs and returning them for the reward. When they accidentally kidnap the Shih Tzu of a certified psychopath named Charlie (Woody Harrelson), they run for the desert and Marty is roped into going along with them.

Sitting around a campfire leaves Marty with little else to talk about than his screenplay. Here, it becomes clear that Billy and Han are, respectively, the devil and the angel sitting on Marty’s shoulders, pulling him in opposite directions. Billy endorses catharsis through the satiation of bloodlust, encouraging Marty to conclude his movie with a baroque shootout. Hans, on the other hand (or shoulder) is both a pacifist and a stoic. He will not flee from the horrors of mankind but he will neither give in to them. Unfortunately, this all happens so baldly above the surface it immediately becomes clear that McDonagh is interested only in – and speaking only to – himself.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing at all for the viewer to enjoy. The dialogue is theatrical and often very funny. With the inclusion of so many great character actors (whom I won’t mention since many of them are essentially cameos), the words are a delight to listen to. Rockwell in particular – and as always – is electric and hilarious. Yet these are not the kinds of laughs or moments that remain with you. The best moments of the film are also the most cheap and ethereal. What does stick in the brain is the tiring and endless discussion of who Marty is and what he’s written. Most annoying is the tendency to remark upon a shortcoming without addressing it, such as when Hans takes Marty to task for underwriting and underutilizing his female characters only a few scenes before Cornish shows up in a wet t-shirt with voiceover blocking out anything she might be saying. Simply acknowledging something does not excuse it.

Sitting through Seven Psychopaths isn’t exactly a slog. As mentioned, it’s quite funny. Also, there’s a whole lot of people shooting each other and it would be a disservice to the movie to pretend there’s no entertainment in that. But that sort of entertainment is so fleeting that the memory of the enjoyment is soon deleted to make room for other, more meaningful experiences.

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