SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS – Blu-ray review

“Seven Psychopaths,” which is written and directed by Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”), invites comparison. You almost get a sense of déja vu as you watch.

In terms of pacing and structure, it feels like Matthew Vaughn’s “Layer Cake,” and with its blending of reality and screenplay-in-progress it reminds you a bit of Spike Jonze’ “Adaptation.” It’s the kind of crime comedy that could have been penned by Elmore Leonard if he was 30 years younger and smoked pot, or by Mickey Spillane if he wasn’t dead and wrote scrambled crime fiction instead of the hard-boiled variety.

It’s not as wild a ride as “Pulp Fiction” or anything Quentin Tarantino could dream up, but it’s bloody at times, it’s quirky, it’s smartly written . . . and it’s deliciously ironic if you consider that the Shih Tzu hits the fan in this film because of one little dog that just happens to be the pride and joy of a psychotic mid-level racketeer. That would be Woody Harrelson—who seems to have gone straight from naive “Cheers” bartender to a slightly psychopathic you-name-it.

Originally Mickey Rourke was cast as the lead psychopath, and he quit “The Expendables 2” just to star in this film. But he walked off the set of “Seven Psychopaths” because of creative differences with McDonagh, who, rumor has it, he dubbed a “jerk off.”

Sounds like he was still in character.

Charlie (the role Rourke yielded to Harrelson) is an egocentric with a short fuse who’d whack a dog-walker just because the pooch was kidnapped. Charlie would probably kill a taxi driver for expecting a tip, except this guy has no need of cabbies, because he has drivers and henchmen to do his bidding. And his bid is, get the mo-fo that stole my beloved Bonny and bring that doggie back to me.

The absurdity that underlies the plot is a main point of attraction, but really it’s the acting that makes “Seven Psychopaths” worth watching.

Colin Farrell plays Marty, a screenwriter whose friends keep trying to tell him he’s an alcoholic, but by the same turn go out of their way to help him come up with ideas. Not that they have to strain very much. His roomie, Billy (Sam Rockwell) is into kidnapping dogs with a partner, Hans (Christopher Walken), and then returning them to the owners after a reward has been posted. Walken turns in one of his most emotionally riveting yet understated performances in this film, and Rockewell manages to infuse his role with the energy of someone who’s naturally high, while still keeping a lid on a secret life that could blow at any minute.  And Linda Bright Clay makes the best of a small part as Hans’s wife.

Really, though, the whole cast is fun to watch as this dark and quirky comedy plays itself out. And from a writer’s point of view? When you have friends telling you things like “You can’t let the animals die in a movie . . . only the women,” you ought to know that EVERYONE YOU KNOW IS A PSYCHOPATH.

Carter Burwell’s score and Ben Davis’s cinematography are in synch the whole way, never drawing attention to themselves but always reinforcing the images and action on the screen. I wouldn’t call “Seven Psychopaths” a great film, and partly that’s because of how familiar it seems at times, but it’s entertaining and well made.

Sony has been doing a great job with HD transfers, and this title is no exception. “Seven Psychopaths” looks great in 1080p, presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio and transferred to a 50-gig Blu-ray disc via an AVC/MPEG-4 encode. I saw no problems with the transfer—no artifacts of any kind—and the colors were nicely saturated, skin tones were natural, and the black levels and level of detail was amazing. I don’t know what more the filmmakers could have done to create such a visual experience.

The audio is almost as strong, with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack delivering a nice robust package, though don’t expect too much from the rear speakers. When the action gets heavy, all 5.1 get engaged, but ambient sound otherwise is more subtle. But dialogue is clear, and the prioritization of effects, dialogue, and soundtrack seems right-on.

You know how long it takes for the average Blu-ray feature to load? Well, it’s longer than any of these features, which makes them all a bust, as far as I’m concerned. You get two “profiles” of Farrell as Marty and Harrelson as Charlie that run under three minutes for BOTH, then a two-minute quickie about location filming, a one-minute potpourri, a two-minute promo where everyone pats everyone else on the back, and a goofy “Seven Psychocats” trailer that uses cats instead of the characters. Yeah, I’ll be watching that one over and over.

Bottom line:
If you’re a fan of the crime comedy genre, “Seven Psychopaths” is a film that’s worth a look. Though it seems derivative at times, it’s offbeat, it’s violent, it’s well written, and it’s well acted.