Gleefully violent

DAVE MANNING
Last updated 12:54 24/01/2013
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REVIEW: Seven Psychopaths Starring Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson. Directed By Martin McDonagh. R16. ★★★★★

Wicked and hilarious, Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths bristles with violence, volatility and verve as a pitch-black comedy that nuttily satirises movie killer-thrillers.

It opens, foretellingly, like a Pulp Fiction copycat, with banter between two hitmen - a scene which surprisingly introduces psychopath No 1.

The rest of the psychopaths come in a story that focuses on Marty (Colin Farrell), an alcoholic screenwriter whose latest work is entitled Seven Psychopaths - but he's yet to come up with a story, which he wants to be "life-affirming".

His best buddy, unemployed actor Billy (Sam Rockwell), is trying to help him while operating a dog-napping scam with friend Hans (Christopher Walken) to reap reward money. Haplessly, they have dog-borrowed - as Billy puts it - the beloved shih tzu of LA psychopathic gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson).

McDonagh is an Irish writer-director who made the entertaining crime-comedy In Bruges - and here his story is looser, wilder and more ambitious and imaginative. It's also practically gleefully violent and seems to simultaneously imitate and spoof the kind of movies made by Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie in particular.

It also recalls Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation in that it's a smart movie about movie-making with a mix of fantasy and reality - and not always being immediately clear which is which.

It has characters talking about God, the afterlife, Gandhi and cravats - as well as frequently referring to standard elements in psycho flicks, such as the roles of women in them, whether heads can actually explode if shot and the need for a climactic shootout.

McDonagh's script is witty and often scabrously funny - and his cast serve up perfectly complementary performances. Farrell is the movie's constantly bewildered straight man, a foil to an increasingly mad Rockwell, while Walken once again steals scenes with his ability to say one word and make it interesting but also provides some poignancy in his love for his cancer-stricken wife.

Harrelson is a psychopath who finds other psychopaths upsetting - and the supporting cast includes Tom Waits as part of a duo who were serial killer killers, Harry Dean Stanton as a creepy stalker and Long Ngyyen as a vengeful Vietnamese psycho.

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Bloody, clever and absurd, Seven Psychopaths is top-notch black comedy that's consistently funny and unpredictable right through to its end-credits footnote scene.

Gangster Squad Starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling. Directed By Ruben Fleischer. R16. ★★

Also steeped in violence, Gangster Squad - a crime drama about six cops trying to save Los Angeles from a psychopathic mobster in 1949 - is just the kind of movie Seven Pscyhopaths sends up.

From its grisly opening to its bare-knuckle, knockdown finish, it has brutality and enough shootouts with tommy-gun fusillades to put a smile on the dial of munition-makers, especially since all the firepower, often at point-blank range, mainly tears up the scenery rather than hits anyone. Not that there's much scenery left whenever Sean Penn, playing gangster Mickey Cohen, is around chewing it up. He's an epitome of evil who's so cartoonish to make you pine for Pacino's Scarface.

Cohen finds himself targeted by a good man, ex-war hero and honest and stoic cop John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), who's been assigned by his chief (Nick Nolte) to head up a secret squad to wage guerrilla warfare on Cohen, causing understandable worry to O'Mara's pregnant wife (Mireille Enos, of TV's The Killing).

O'Mara recruits five misfit cops to form a dirty half-dozen posse (an A-Team in a B-movie), including cool cop Jerry (Ryan Gosling), a tech expert (Giovanni Ribisi), a six-gun sharpshooter (Robert Patrick) and, for demographics, a black cop (Anthony Mackie) and an Hispanic cop (Michael Pena).

Complicating matters, Jerry is having a covert affair with Cohen's moll (Emma Stone) - allowing Gosling and Stone to reignite the chemistry they had in Stupid, Crazy Love.

It's an appealing cast that's generally wasted in a movie that's supposedly "inspired by a true story" but seems more inspired by such films as The Expendables, Dredd or The Raid.

Glossy, slick and stylishly directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), it's neither an LA Confidential film noir nor a gripping gangbuster saga a la The Untouchables. Instead it's much more reminiscent - and a blend - of the 1990 comicbook movie Dick Tracy (in which Tracy takes on Pacino's Big Boy Caprice hoodlum) and the 2005 graphic novel-inspired Sin City.

Which is its core problem. It wants to be a bit of all of the above but ends up a muddled mess which squanders with sledgehammer subtlety and overkill mentality the opportunity to tell what could have been a truly dramatic cops-versus-gangsters story.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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