I loved Seven Psychopaths, but I'm not certain you will. By you, I mean anyone who is reading this and doesn't consider themselves a serious writer, because make no mistake this is a serious meditation on the process of writing. There are rich performances by beloved actors and there is plenty of violence, too, but Seven Psychopaths is built on a bedrock of nazel-gaving about the creative process -- and I mean that in the best possible way.
Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell) is a struggling Hollywood screenwriter whose problematic drinking is interfering with his latest script -- Seven Psychopaths. Thanks in part to his loyal best friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), Marty begins to draw inspiration from those around him. Marty wants Seven Psychopaths to be different -- he doesn't want a bloodbath, per se -- and so, with Billy's assistance, he begins to assemble his Psychopaths.
There is Zachariah Rigby (Tom Waits), the man who, with his African-American girlfriend, went around the country serial killing serial killers, only to be separated from her when he refuses to cut down the Zodiac. There is the crime boss, Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), so infatuated with his dog Bonnie that he is brought to his knees and is completely inconsolable when the Shih Tzu is dognapped. And there is Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken). Of course he is a psychopath -- it's Walken, after all. In the interest of not spoiling things, I won't explain exactly how.
There are, in fact, seven psychopaths ... at least. I've given you three of them. The identity of two of the others are up in the air. The biggest psychopath of all, though? That would be Billy. In a misguided attempt to kickstart Marty's sputtering screenplay, it is him who finds Zachariah. It is him who, with Hans, conspires to dognap Bonnie. It is him who is dead set on a guns-a-blazing showdown with Charlie Costello in the desert after, of course, he and Marty have finished Marty's script together.
Reality is in near-constant doubt here. Billy is supposed to be the Jack of Diamonds killer -- a nemesis to Costello and his henchmen who leaves a corresponding playing card with each of his victims -- but it's never certain that it is in fact him, that what we're seeing isn't pure fiction -- the conjurings of Marty's creative mind.
Writer and director Martin McDonagh has two pretty clear inspirations here -- the hyper-violent Los Angeles noir of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and the surrealism of Charlie Kaufman's Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. McDonagh is Irish and so is Marty, so it's a pretty safe assumption that our protagonist is also the conduit through which McDonagh is expressing himself directly. Counter to that and him is Billy, who is not interested in the least in a "different" kind of Psychopath. Rather Billy is laser-focused on the way this violent tale should end in his mind -- with a dramatic showdown.
This, it would seem to me, is his greatest psychosis. This, it would seem to me, is also where the tension is centered. On the one hand, we have Marty, the innocent bystander in a world of chaos and insanity. On the other, we have Billy, the instigator of much of it. Though it's tempting to say that Marty is McDonagh and Billy is his impatient viewer (read: us), I think McDonagh is looking inward more than one might initially think. Isn't this, after all, what writing is all about -- trying to balance your artistic goals with what convention and commerce might dictate?
That's a funny principle around which to build a film, and McDonagh certainly gets plenty of comedic value out of the premise. Again, I'm a writer so this sort of thing -- these sort of themes -- naturally appeal to me. What I can't help but wonder is if they do to people who aren't naturally artistic or creative in a similar fashion. I'll refrain from answering mostly because I fear that my guess might be more close to the unwelcome truth than I'd like.