This brutal and absurdly dark comedy about a dognapping gone disastrously awry could have Quentin Tarantino wondering, "Why didn't I think of that?"
Dognapping can be a lucrative endeavor. Then again, it can also be a perilous one. That's the lesson Hans, Billy and their buddy Marty learn in Seven Psychopaths, a violent story about what happens when these men mistakenly kidnap the prize pooch of a mobster.
Typically, when Hans and Billy do a job it goes like this: Billy nabs a promising pup when its owner isn't looking. Then, a few days later, quirky Hans—who's 63 and wears a stylish cravat—returns the prodigal canine to its overjoyed owner … and collects a reward.
That's what they thought would happen when Billy snatched a Shih Tzu named Bonny from a young black woman who'd taken the pooch to the park.
But Bonny wasn't her dog.
Instead, it belongs to a murderous Mafioso—one of the film's seven titular psychopaths—named Charlie. Charlie doesn't give one whit about humanity. But Bonny? Well, woe to anyone who comes between him and his beloved Shih Tzu.
Speaking of woe and psychopaths, well, we're just getting started. Marty is writing a screenplay named—you guessed it—Seven Psychopaths. And he's grudgingly admitted he could use his friends' help fleshing it out. Occasionally, then, the dognapping plotline gets put on pause as fictional sequences depict the imaginary psychos Marty is brainstorming—such as a Vietnamese priest coming to America and wiping out the American soldiers who killed his family … or the demented Quaker character who stalks a young man who murdered his daughter.
And the psychopath list just keeps growing in the real world too. First there's a hooded vigilante who's been hunting Charlie's henchmen. Then there's an old guy named Zachariah who shows up at Marty's house after Billy puts an ad the paper inviting psychopaths from all over L.A. to come over and share their stories … you know, to help Marty brainstorm. Suffice it to say Zachariah's bloody story is a doozy.
All the while, Charlie keeps closing in on Hans and Billy. And when he brutally murders Hans' wife, Myra—who's in the hospital suffering from cancer—it sets the stage for an even bigger psychopathic showdown.
'Cause it turns out Hans and Billy are psychopaths too.
Hans and Billy's relationship is never really explained, but the older man acts as a father figure to the younger. As for Billy, he's concerned about his writer friend's alcoholism, and he repeatedly upbraids Marty for this self-destructive habit. Hans' bond with his wife, Myra, involves him visiting her at the hospital daily, always handing over to her whatever money he's managed to eke out of unsuspecting dog owners. And Myra, while grateful for his support, doesn't approve of her husband's duplicitous manner of making his money.
After Charlie kills Myra, Hans, who talks about being a Christian, says he isn't interested in seeking revenge. He also tries (unsuccessfully) to talk Billy out of his vengeful response to Charlie.
Apart from Hans' dognapping "profession," he and Myra express quite a bit of seriousness related to their faith. Their daughter, we learn, was murdered years before, and the couple stalked her attacker until he killed himself—exactly as happened in Marty's supposedly fictional story about the Quaker. In retrospect, however, Hans regrets having driven the man to his death.
Hans and Myra talk frequently about the afterlife and whether they'll be reunited with their daughter. Hans says God can relate to them because "b‑‑tards killed His kid too." But Hans also takes the drug peyote and believes he has a vision of Myra wandering the earth with a bullet hole in her head. It's a vision that fills him with doubt about ever seeing his loved ones again.
A murderer becomes a devout believer after being imprisoned. We see him reading his Bible and glimpse numerous crosses and icons of Jesus in his apartment. When a man is killed, we hear him talk about seeing his loved ones waiting for him in heaven. There's talk about going to hell as punishment for committing suicide. We also get the idea that a man can continue to torment another after death.
The Vietnamese priest isn't really a priest. And he's pictured as a Buddhist monk who protests war by lighting himself on fire. Gandhi's spiritualized nonviolent teachings are referenced. The movie's final battle takes place on a rock hill with a cross on its top.
Two scenes picture the "priest" with a topless prostitute wearing only panties. He's not interested in sex, however. Instead, he intends to strap dynamite to her before sending her into a reunion of American veterans. In a third scene, the prostitute is clothed, but the pair does have sex. We see her on top of him as they make sexual movements and sounds.
Billy has been having an affair with Charlie's girlfriend, Angela. He's shown on top of her as they make out. (She's wearing a bra and underwear; he has only a shirt on.) What follows is an intensely suggestive sequence involving them talking about erections, condoms and venereal disease.
Marty is apparently living with his girlfriend, Kaya, though that relationship is more implied than shown. Kaya shows up in the middle of a bullet-riddled firefight in the rain wearing a white T-shirt and no bra. She promptly gets gunned down.
Murderous vigilante justice is the ongoing theme here, with almost all the characters pursuing it. The opening scene finds two hit men on a bridge arguing about whether it's possible to shoot someone in the eye … when out of nowhere comes a man in a red hood who shoots both men in the head, to bloody effect. It's the first of many such killings in this grisly, gory, gratuitously graphic film. The red-hooded vigilante strikes again later, shooting and killing several men who are roughing up Marty and Hans.
But even such shootings are just the beginning of this film's violent imagery. We see a charred corpse. We see multiple bloody corpses. We see a decapitation by way of a hand saw. We see a hand get lopped off with a scimitar before its owner is set on fire and shot. We see another man set on fire after his hands are pinned to a table with knives. We hear about a hanging and dead women in a basement.
Three scenes picture men slitting their own throats from ear to ear. Billy shoots Angela in the stomach, killing her. Both the Quaker and Hans recall daughters being butchered (and we see their bodies). Somebody takes a crossbow bolt through the neck, then has his head blown off with a shotgun. The Vietnamese man sets himself on fire. Others get ignited via napalm. The aforementioned prostitute walks into a group of military veterans while loaded with explosives.
Crude or Profane Language
A full five uses of the c-word. About 90 f-words, including 10 or more paired with "mother." At least a dozen s-words. God's names is abused three or four times (once paired with "d‑‑n"), while Jesus' is misused a half-dozen times. Racially and sexually derogatory slurs include repetitions of "f-g" "gay," "n-gger," "d‑‑k," "pr‑‑k," "b‑‑tard," "douche," "Pollock" and "Mongoloid." Other vulgarities include "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑," "a‑‑" and "a‑‑hole."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Marty is an alcoholic who drinks constantly. (Once he tries unsuccessfully to kick the habit.) He's said to have gotten so drunk at a party that he can't remember the fight he had with his girlfriend. He also drives after drinking. Billy, as mentioned, hates his friend's drinking and repeatedly admonishes him to quit. Other characters are occasionally shown drinking various alcoholic beverages.
Billy and Hans take peyote in the desert and have hallucinations.
Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be dognappers. If there's a positive message in the dark, exceedingly violent comedy Seven Psychopaths, that's it. And maybe even that is an overstatement wrought from overthinking things. Because there's so much absurd stuff happening in this graphically gory, obstinately obscene, over-the-top satirical farce, it's probably better not to look too hard for deeper meanings.
So let's move on to one of the brewing controversies surrounding Seven Psychopaths. It involves characters' repeated use of the slurs "gay" and "f-g." Director Martin McDonagh addressed criticism of those words at a red carpet event, saying, "It concerns me that anyone would be offended by it. You have to be free to write characters as truthfully as you can, and most people using that word in this [movie] are psychopaths, and doing things that I also wouldn't condone at all. I hope the tone of the film as a whole isn't coming from that kind of place. I would be sad if anyone thought that it was."
But not everyone is buying his rebuttal. Diane Anderson-Minshall, executive director of gay lifestyle magazine The Advocate, said, "What concerns me is that at some point, with a film like this, unless that character is pure evil and gets his or her comeuppance at the end, there will be audience identification with him. I'm betting that at the end of this film, audiences walk away feeling sympathetic to and even identifying with at least several of these 'psychos.' And when we walk away from a film where a character we felt for uses gay slurs, or racial slurs or other cultural indignities, it makes it seem all the more reasonable that we should be able to do so ourselves."
I'd like to push Anderson-Minshall's logic a step further by asking, What other insensitive and hurtful—not to mention brutal, bloody, obscene, sleazy, sexual, psychotic or otherwise antisocial—behavior in Seven Psychopaths might someone potentially internalize. Never mind that it's behavior the movie's director "wouldn't condone at all"?