Psychopaths are boring

The post title is a quote from playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, recent movie Seven Psychopaths. I tend to agree. Based on TV-shows and movies, you’d think our streets are crawling with serial killers. McDonagh tries to liven things up by throwing a boatload of them together, but the results are mixed.

Most enjoyable are the meta-moments in the film, where the protagonist, who is writing a script called “Seven Psychopaths”, deals with the plot problems he’s running up against.  While this is fun and clever, it also bears the weight of the old “I don’t know what to write about so I’ll write about not knowing what to write about” ploy seen in countless grad-school essays, and while some of the B-movie references are funny and slick, you can’t excuse not having any two-dimensional female characters simply by having someone comment on the script and say it doesn’t have any two-dimensional female characters.

It also doesn’t help that McDonagh’s main observation about society, that we often care for animals more than other people, is a retread of the theme of his 2001 play The Lieutenant of Inishmore. though the two scripts are radically different in many ways. Presumably, most of the American movie-going audience isn’t aware that McDonaugh is a playwright, and a Tony-award winning one at that.

Seven Psychopaths is McDonagh’s second feature film, and I prefer his initial effort, In Bruges, which is better in both establishing character and story-telling. McDonagh’s strength and weakness is the device he uses to precipitate the actions of his characters. In both his films and his plays, the characters have the power of adults but the emotional maturity of pre-schoolers. This makes their hurts, loves, and reactions outsized, and leads to serious consequences when those characters hold weapons or positions of power. If you’ve seen several of his works, however, it can also feel a bit predictable even in his most famous play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

This is not to say that Seven Psychopaths is without charms, but it really just a smarter than average exploitation flick. In Bruges also has his trademark ink-black humor, and people you might actually care about as well.


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