Movie Reviews: Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths ****
Dollhouse ***
The Man with the Iron Fists **
The Oranges ***

Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges (2008) was as much a commentary on the crime flick as it was a hugely enjoyable black comedy, and he repeats the trick, albeit on a bigger (and sunnier) canvas, with Seven Psychopaths (16s). Martin (Colin Farrell) is an LA-based Irish screenwriter suffering from writer’s block on his latest screenplay, a movie called Seven Psychopaths. Happily for Martin’s creative juices, his friends Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) run a dog-napping scam, which thrusts Martin into LA’s criminal underworld when the pair kidnap a dog belonging to sociopathic crime boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson). A movie about making movies, and the morality of dabbling in fictional murder and mayhem for profit, Seven Psychopaths appears on the one hand to be something of self-conscious apologia from Martin McDonagh, and on the other to be a spoof of the crime flick that pokes fun at McDonagh himself for taking it all too seriously. The tension created by these apparently conflicting motives makes for a subversively funny meta-movie, not least because Rockwell, Harrelson and Walken buy into the premise with exaggeratedly ironic performances. Farrell, by contrast, struggles to strike a convincing note as the frustrated writer, and his deliberately shambolic turn grows increasingly irritating as Martin descends into whiny, bewildered petulance. Seven Psychopaths is a clever satire on violence in film, but it lacks the emotional heft of In Bruges.

Devastated when she discovers her new fiancée cheating on her, Nina (Leighton Meester) heads home for the first time in five years, only to fall for her next-door neighbour David (Hugh Laurie), who just so happens to be her best friend’s father. Pitched somewhere between a romantic comedy and suburban soap opera, The Oranges (15A) offers an intriguing twist on the conventions of the romance drama. Director Julian Farino broadens out the story to examine the consequences of their affair on both families, and the extent to which Nina and David’s pursuit of happiness forces everyone else to examine their own willingness to accept a life of mediocrity. It’s an ambitious ploy, although it does spread the story a little thin. Laurie and Meester turn in good performances but fail to strike a convincing chemistry. A bittersweet tale that entertains, The Oranges never fully engages the audience in Nina and David’s plight.

Written and directed by Kirsten Sheridan, Dollhouse (16s) explores what happens when six streetwise Irish kids break into a plush suburban house and make themselves at home. It’s an intriguing premise given our current socio-economic upheaval, and one with an added edge, which is provided by Sheridan’s willingness to allow the young actors to improvise and ad lib. From an early and highly improbable twist onwards, however, the story becomes a series of staged scenarios that have all the raw, unfocused energy of acting exercises. It feels as if Sheridan filmed the characters going through their dress rehearsal warm-ups, and while that approach leads to some unexpected narrative segues, the overall impression is of a disjointed, experimental tale.

The Man With the Iron Fists (16s) may be directed by RZA but it is ‘presented’ by Quentin Tarantino, and there’s no mistaking who has the stronger influence. A kind of grindhouse kung fu flick, it’s a self-consciously cheap ’n’ nasty throwback to the glory days of the Asian martial arts movie as two rival clans, the Lions and the Wolves, go to war in feudal China for a fabled consignment of gold. The impressive cast includes Lucy Liu, Daniel Wu, Jamie Chung, Rick Yune and Russell Crowe, but the characters are almost as irrelevant as the plot, given that the point of the exercise is to pay homage to the great martial arts movies and have some tongue-in-cheek fun in the process. Thus the movie-making is deliberately abysmal, the performances as cheesy as they are wooden, and the action sequences superbly — and at times hilariously — executed.


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