Seven Psychopaths Martin McDonagh ( 2012 UK) Colin Farell Woody Harrelson SamRockwell.
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 10 Dec 2012; ticket £7 Stoney heart….
On 11 June 1963 Thich Quang Duc a Vietnamese Bhuddist Monk immolated himself in Saigon at the crossroads in front of the Cambodian Embassy. The act of self immolation was Duc’s (supported by his fellow monks and nuns) ultimate protest against the discrimination practiced by the Diem regime against Bhuddists. Diem himself, a corrupt reliquary of French colonial rule, was a Catholic and the regime used the Catholic religion as the touchstone of political reliability; to advance under Diem’s administration you had to be Catholic, although the South Vietnamese population was 90% Bhuddist despite a decade of forced conversions. Diem was progressively curtailing Bhuddist rights and expressions of their faith, and Duc’s act of self immolation was a direct response to Diem’s ban on the flying of traditional Bhuddist flags on the birthday of the Bhudda. Interestingly Duc’s heart survived intact both his self immolation and his later cremation which was viewed as an attestation of his sainthood. On the evidence of Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh’s heart, if he has one, will burn.
This historical digression is prompted by McDonagh’s movie Seven Psychopaths (SP) that has as one of its core interwoven stories, the tale of a ‘Bhuddist psychopath’. The monk story psychology is somewhat convoluted and unconvincing, but its raison d’etre is that a monk such as Duc, had he not immolated himself, might instead have sought out his revenge on the USA for their war in Vietnam. The story is admittedly almost deliberately confused. But it is clear that the Bhuddist protests of this era that included acts of self immolation, had nothing to do with protest against the USA; and that the Bhuddist ethos amongst the monks and nuns of South Vietnam at this time, had no place for violence against others. The moral bankruptcy of both the film script and the director/writer Martin McDonagh (MM) is evidenced in the manipulative distortion both of history and religion that MM has had to recourse to, in order to give his film even the semblance of an ending. A cheap trick that allows the film to go out with a ‘bang’ in one of its last sequences by exploiting the recreated image of a burning monk. As if this act and its corresponding image had any meaningful connection to the gash footage that had preceded it. A cheap trick.
The distorted history used as back story in SP is exploitative demeaning junk in the worst Hollywood tradition. What else remains? Certainly not the cinematography which is uninteresting and adds little to the film except to confirm its mediocracy.
The structure of the film is built on a sort of deconstructed model that is broken down into compartmentalised narratives that interlink with each other and with imaginary strands (most noticeably the Vietnam psychopath story) . The film’s structure is a knowing nod at post modernist and New Wave film sensibility. But the structure built on the intertweaved strands of dognappers, the travails of a script writer and a criminal gang, lacks a unifying dynamic. SP is not so much filled out with an idea but emptied out of ideas. Frantic chaotic desperate action replaces any semblance of a coherent film or dramatic theme. Lacking a material idea, the film is without energy; without energy there is no tension in the interplay and interrelationship between its strands; without tension there is no pace, only a confused melee of images. Without a structural dynamic, SP overdepends on dialogue such as the ‘pitching sessions’ between Marty and Tommy(?), Like the movie, the dialogue comprises a series of little ideas that amount to nothing much except the repeated arch suggestion of a story featuring the idea of a Bhuddist psychopath (sic).
The film relies on one running gag, the dognapping idea, which is the source of continuous referential humour; but the mawkish repetition of the device released by the idea of the heavy criminal having a big soft spot for his pooch soon ceases to be very funny. The film also relies on its humorous dialogue which takes its cue from the sort of interchanges that Tarantino perfected in his early films, interwoven with the sort of deadpan ‘silly’ writing Ricky Gervaise successfully built into ‘the Office’ series and a little Iain Banks thrown in for the lurid detail. The only trouble with MM’S writing is that it is laborious unfunny and patently derivative in the manner sometimes heard in pubs where one member of a ‘crowd’ is entertaining his mates.
The script development is so uneven that the characters can be seen only as mechanical ciphers, spurious affect machines for MM’s vacuous meanderings. The number of films that are patched up with music! People flood a film with music. They are preventing us from seeing that there is nothing in those images. (Robert Bresson – Notes on the Cinematographer) The soundtrack of SP is filled out with a selection of eclectic music. I sometimes wondered if MM’s choice of music was intended to take my mind away from rather than draw me into the film I was watching. After a quote from Book of Revelations, which opens the movie (again Tarantino type quote/homage referencing the hitman in Pulp Fiction – which is superbly structured) and a cute dialogue about Dillinger getting shot in the eye, the film breaks into PP Arnold’s The First Cut is the Deepest. Like the rest of the music in SP the song had no relation that I could fathom to anything that appeared on screen. I supposed the song, like the others, was in the movie because MM liked it and more importantly it operated as a powerful distraction from what was on the screen. ( and it probably cost a lot of money).
On the evidence of SP, MM is running out of road and has no where to go except Hollywood style distortion and manipulation of ideas. On the Sunday evening I saw this heavily promoted film the cinema was almost empty and what audience there was seemed unmoved by the spectacle before their eyes. adrin neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org