(Martin McDonagh, 2012)
All self-indulgence should be as entertaining as McDonagh's follow up to In Bruges. And make no mistake, this is thoroughly self-indulgent, with its tale of a screenwriter hero named Martin (Colin Farrell) who is sick of typical Hollywood portrayals of violence and gets himself tangled up in a dog-kidnapping scheme gone wrong once it targets the pet of psychopathic mobster Charlie (Woody Harrelson). The dog-kidnappers are Charlie's friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Billy's friend Hans (Christopher Walken) and they end up in the desert, giving Martin advice on how his screenplay - also named Seven Psychopaths - should end, while hiding from Charlie and his gang. Along the way McDonagh gives us a series of fantasy sequences illustrating portions of Martin's screenplay and the stories people contribute in an effort to assist him while the main storyline continues along well-trodden Tarantino-esque lines.
That this is all so entertaining is purely down to a fine cast and to McDonagh's talent as a writer. He writes blistering dialogue, instantly shown in the opening scene as two mob gunmen wait around before a hit, discussing the minutiae of love and murder in what seems a deliberate thumbing of the nose at post-Tarantino cliches. McDonagh repeatedly criticises his own work, and this self-reflexism works better at some points than others; the criticism of Martin's female characters as "terrible" cyphers who only exist to be shot doesn't really excuse the lack of interesting women here, while Martin's wish that his film could just end with everybody off in the desert, talking, is borne out until it isn't.
He can do tension too, and specialises at finding the comedy in these moments, the instant when
nervousness and fear become a queasy sort of amusement.
The cast make so much of it work. Rockwell is tremendous, hilarious throughout - it is funnier than the majority of this years outright comedies - but also suggesting the power of Billy's friendship with Martin, while Farrell carries off the difficult straight-man role well. Walken, Harrelson, Linda Bright Clay and the likes of Tom Waits and Željko Ivanek in smaller roles all do great work with the character parts that McDonagh writes so well.
But really, this is a very slight entertainment, wicked and dazzling at times but also empty and strangely unsatisfying. McDonagh and his talented cast can do so much better.