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Interview: Martin McDonagh

Seven Psychopaths’ Filmmaker Wants To Have His Cake And Eat It Too

Above: Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell in "Seven Psychopaths."

"Seven Psychopaths" (opened October 12 throughout San Diego) serves up a film within a film by "In Bruges" writer-director Martin McDonagh. Watch my video interview.

AT times "Sven Psychopaths" gets a little precious as it spins its self-reflexive tale of a screenwriter trying to write a film called "Seven Psychopaths." Problem is, all he really has is the title. But writer-director Martin McDonagh is ultimately a charmer with a knack for crackling dialogue and genuinely fresh characters. So whatever flaws "Seven Psychopaths" has, they by no means ruin the enjoyment of the film and its phenomenal cast.

Video

Cinema Junkie Interview: Martin McDonagh

Above: KPBS Cinema Junkie blogger Beth Accomando interviews writer-director Martin McDonagh. Footage courtesy of CBS Films.

Colin Farrell is Marty, a screenwriter with a drinking problem and writer's block. When I met Martin McDonagh for my interview, I have to confess I was wondering if there was anything autobiographical to the film. Apparently not much more than the fact that Marty and McDonagh both faced the challenge of coming up with "Seven Psychopaths."

The film opens with a scene that could be read as a spoof or homage to the hired assassins of "In Bruges." What happens in the scenes, however, announces that you are in for something different. "Seven Psychopaths" marks McDonagh's second feature film as writer-director and he wants to do something that at least attempts to push back on the conventions of the current guys with guns films. So what McDonagh and his alter ego Marty come up with is a film that delivers the shoot 'em up formula of violent action and whacked characters while simultaneously turning those conventions on their head. McDonagh smiles broadly when I ask if he's trying to have his cake and eat it too. The answer is yes and that he succeeds in doing precisely that.

What will surprise viewers most is that there is an underlying tenderness to many of the subplots and backstories -- like an oddly sweet romance between a psychopath and his wife, devotion between a pair of psychopaths on divergent paths, or a psychotically driven parent to avenge the death of a child. Throw in actors like Christopher Walken, Harry Dean Stanton, Sam Rockwell, and Tom Waits and you have a pretty irresistible package. These are actors who can take ownership of a script and characters and bring them fully to life. In the case of Harry Dean Stanton, he does this without even speaking a single word. These guys bring precisely the richness of character and life experience that McDonagh needs to make his story work. In fact I wish a couple of these 7 psychopaths had gotten their own origin film.

And let me just take a moment to to applaud Walken's unique skill at delivering lines. He can take just a single word -- like "No" -- and make it speak volumes and sound like we've never heard it uttered in quite that way before. He is simply a genius and a delight to watch in just about anything. Here he gets a character worthy of his talent. I would pay to see this film again if only to hear Walken utter that pivotal "no" at the end of the film.

"Seven Psychopaths" (rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use) is a highly entertaining action film that also has something on its mind. It pairs well with another recent opening, "Looper." Both films are made by filmmakers from outside the Hollywood industry who have taken projects that have a certain Hollywood formula but then they tweak it to find something new and fresh.

Check out my video interview and clips from the film.

Companion viewing: "In Bruges," "Things Change," "The Matador"

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