I’m not the first person to reference the title of writer-director Martin McDonagh’s blisteringly funny and violent Seven Psychopaths in a list of why you should see it. But I’m determined to be the first one to include all the most important reasons, because the pleasures to be had while watching the film number far beyond seven. So, without further ado, here are the top seven reasons that Seven Psychopaths should be considered required viewing for movie lovers.
1) You probably didn’t catch it in theaters. Despite familiar names like Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Sam Rockwell, nobody in the cast is really a strong box office draw. Mostly positive reviews couldn’t save it from rapidly fading when it hit theaters in October, 2012. That’s the most obvious reason to watch the newly released Blu-ray.
This wildly inventive, refreshingly unpredictable tale of a writer working on a screenplay (titled Seven Psychopaths) has a second chance to lock in a wide audience. Seven Psychopaths is a meta-movie, but one that uses its self-referentialism in a positive, exploratory way. McDonagh examines the various reactions different scenarios can elicit from an audience, goofing on clichés while crafting a series of mini-stories as compelling as anything released last year.
2) No animals are hurt or killed. McDonagh understands that you can kill human characters without the risk of losing your audience, but harm an animal and all bets are off. Psychopaths is populated by lots of bunnies and dogs—heck, one of the main characters is a Shih Tzu named Bonny—and no matter how gruesome the violence gets, their safety is never compromised. Two primary characters, screenwriter Marty’s (Farrell) friend Billy (Rockwell) and Billy’s partner Hans (Walken), make their living dognapping. But they always take good care of the captive canines, even mobster Charlie’s (Harrelson) precious Bonny.
3) The Quaker story. Among the various vignettes strewn throughout the film, none leaves a more indelible impression than the “Quaker” story. Harry Dean Stanton portrays said Quaker, a devoutly religious man whose only child is savagely murdered. He stalks his daughter’s killer, tormenting him with his very presence. His ultimate revenge is haunting. With this story-within-a-story, McDonagh demonstrates a multi-level narrative approach that is a theme of Psychopaths and the reason it’s so rewatchable.
4) Christopher Walken. Everyone in the cast (including minor roles played by talented actors such as Kevin Corrigan, Linda Bright Clay, Gabourey Sidibe, and Long Nguyen) seems to relish the roles McDonagh has created for them. At a point in his career where he seems to teeter on the brink of permanent self-parody, Christopher Walken—one of the most distinctive actors in film history—underplays to such perfect effect, he manages to dominate a movie full of scene-stealers. Hans, devoted to caring for his cancer-stricken wife, is a broken man, not so much easing towards senior citizenhood as crashing into it. This is the very best Walken has been in years.
5) The Flaming Carrot “cameo.” McDonagh must be a fan of Bob Burden’s most ingenious creation, the unlikeliest comic book hero of all time, the Flaming Carrot. Not only does Sam Rockwell’s character Billy have a poster of the Carrot on his wall, he has a little figure of him on displayed on his desk, too. Why is this important? Anyone familiar with Burden’s supremely anarchist style of humor in Flaming Carrot Comics (from which Mystery Men, better known due to the 1999 movie adaptation, was spun off) will recognize some of that same spirit running through Psychopaths. Plus Tom Waits, brilliantly cast in Mystery Men as Dr. Heller (no human looks more like a real-life Burden character than Waits), turns up as one of the psychos Marty and Billy encounter, the bunny-loving Zachariah Rigby.
6) Abbie Cornish in a wet t-shirt. In a film that’s notably short on eye candy (at least of the female variety), no sight is more tantalizing than that of the Australian-born beauty dripping wet with no bra beneath her shirt. Before you accuse me of merely promoting lascivious sexism, please note that the all-too-brief shot actually has a purpose (the point being its gratuitous pointlessness). Honorable mention: Christine Marzano as The Hooker.
7) The burnt frame of film near the end. While it’s not particularly innovative, it is the best use of a burned frame of film on screen since at least Amazon Women on the Moon (if not Two-Lane Blacktop). Why is it cool? Because it reminds us that even in the age of digital video, Seven Psychopaths is a film. The 35mm cinematography by Ben Davis is one of its greatest assets and the Blu-ray reproduces the sometimes slightly oversaturated colors, beautiful desert landscapes, and character-etched faces beautifully. As a former projectionist I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the days when film occasionally got caught in the gate, burning up before our eyes.
At the risk of ending on a sour note, special features are not among the reasons to seek out Seven Psychopaths on Blu-ray. Besides a few two-minute-and-under promo pieces, there’s just about nothing there at all. But with a movie this fun, instead of lamenting the absence of supplements, just start it up all over again and soak in more details you didn’t notice the last time around.