She obviously wasn't counting all the people killed in Billy Bickel's imagining of the "final showdown" or "final shootout". There are like 9 head shots...extreme, ridiculous head shots, lacking context, occurring in the middle of the carnage, just there for effect, the daydream of a mad man. If she was counting the people killed in the "final shootout", she would have definitely mentioned the head exploding from a shotgun blast.
Most of the talk about the violence of Psychopaths will probably be superficial, what samurai legend Miyamoto Musashi calls Ken (seeing the surface). People will describe the violence. They will also describe how McDonagh links violence with comedy, in the vein of Tarantino or Guy Ritchie--dark comic bloodshed, red tears of mirth.
I want to talk about Kan. Let's see into the violence. Then through the violence.
Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Master of the reaction shot?: Colin Farrell
Nomination for best supporting actor?: Sam Rockwell
My favorite role of his?: Christopher Walken
Definitely the inspiration for Ledger's Joker-voice?: Tom Waits
When he kills Myra there's a bit of No Country vibe, isn't there?: Woody Harrelson
I think he steals the show?: Long Nguyen
Looks great naked, actually has a BA in psychology from Princeton: Christine Marzano
Was in a bad Bond movie once, but also Paris, je t'aime: Olga Kurylenko
Harry Dean Stanton: Man Who Stares Without Facial Expression
What It's Good For:
-a solid night at the movie theater
-trying to figure out references to other films
-shifts tone, which can keep the movie feeling fresh
-tries to avoid genre-cliches
-if people hold In Bruges in high esteem, they could look down on this, since this is less concentrated, more sprawling
-tone shifts like mad
-could confuse people
-the end may not satisfy
We can look at Seven Psychopaths as Martin's (Collin Farrell) odyssey with violence. When we first see Martin, he's in safe interiors, his home, some outdoor bar/cafe/swank place, a sophisticated party, Billy's home. He's wanting to write his screenplay, "Seven Psychopaths", but we see he is stuck, unable to write anything. The first thing that spurs him? Billy showing him a newspaper article about the Jack O'Diamonds killer, telling him about this killer who only kills mobsters. Violence is, at this point in Martin's life, the stuff of media, gossip, and art. It isn't real.
The first violent act we see as viewers is the JoD killer knocking off (Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction symbols) Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg. It's a random act of violence. We have no reason why it occurred. We know it's sort of good because these guys were going to kill some woman, were going to ravage her eyes, but...we still don't have a contexts for why these two were killed. There was at least a story about why these guys were going to kill this woman. Then we see violence as threat, when Charlie Costello (Harrelson) is threatening the girl from Precious. This is violence used to coerce, violence presented as punishment, violence as a way of expressing anger. But Charlie doesn't kill Precious, he lets her go, so we see a lack of violence as mercy.
These three people will collide in the film's finale. On one end of the spectrum, we have the pacifist, Martin. On the other end, the career criminal, Costello. In the middle: good ol' anti-hero Billy Bickle.
As the film progresses to its finale, Martin's relationship with violence becomes more and more complex. There's something symbolic in the fact Martin is kicked out of his cozy-place and into the home of Billy, the film's Mifune of psychopaths. On the first day of Martin entering Billy's world violence happens. Costello's goons find Hans (Walken), show up at the stolen-dog-hide-away and hold Martin up at gun-point. We're seeing the same cheap violence as occurred with Costello and Precious: violence to coerce, violence presented as punishment, violence as a way of expressing anger. When the JoD killer appears and murders the goons, we see a twist. Instead of a "lack of violence as mercy" we see violence as a type of savior. But this is still random violence. And Martin has no way of comprehending what just happened. Who is the JoD killer? Why is he killing? What were the machinations of his arrival? Had he followed them? How had he arrived right on time? What would have happened had he not shown up? I don't even think Martin had these thoughts. He's splattered in blood and his own vomit. He's entire world is rattled by the sheer force of witnessing such a high-caliber act of violence.
During the hold-up by the goons, before the JoD killer saved the day, we can see the difference between Martin and Hans. Hans, a man with his own violent past, does not flinch in the face of the gun. Martin warbles and shakes. Hans tells Martin to have some manhood, or decency, or something like that. This makes the movie, in a way, a type of coming-of-age tale. But the idea is not maturation through a journey (Almost Famous), standing up to a bully (Dazed and Confused), or asking a girl out (Superbad) , or taking risks for once in your life (Weird Science), or by becoming a part of a group (The Sandlot), or having the courage to pursue a goal (Good Will Hunting), or by learning a skill (Star Wars). The idea of Seven Psychopaths is maturation through acclimation to violence.
Martin's "first step" in this process isn't the encounter with the goons but his conversation with Zachariah Rigby (Waits). Why? Because the goons were something that happened to Martin. He had no control in the situation. With Zachariah, Martin chooses to stay, chooses to conduct the interview. He knows he's spending time, alone, with a crazy man, but I doubt Martin knew how insane Zachariah's back story would be (murder judge, love affair founded on serial killing serial killers). Martin maintains his composure.
In Zachariah's story, violence undergoes a metamorphosis. Until this point, it had remained as something random, as a coercion-tool, as punishment (poor Han's wife), as a way of expressing anger, as media fodder, as gossip. Well, we also had the story of the Quaker and the man who murdered the Quaker's daughter. In that story, violence is a punishable offense, something to regret. But it's also used as a means of escape (suicide). But also as a necessary act: the Quaker slits his throat so he can follow his daughter's killer into hell (if that's indeed where you go when you commit suicide). In these respects, violence has been, to this point, a negative thing, a powerful thing but a thing by which people are scared, hurt, and psychologically tortured. Not so with Zachariah. Violence is for Z and Maggie a means of vengeance, sure, but it's also what unites them, what thrills them, the bridge by which they've connected and love one another. And it's violence that separates them. When Z doesn't partake in the slaying of the hippy Maggie leaves him. Aw.
The next shredding of innocence for Martin is when he tells Hans the story of the Quaker, and Hans turns out to be the Quaker. When Hans reveals his neck, showing he's the Quaker, Martin is like "holy shit". Hans then corrects Martin's telling of the story. And what do we see visually? The anonymous "scary" man who had been the determined, grief-burdened Quaker (Harry Dean Stanton), is replaced by Hans. And the shot that was of the this anonymous man alone on the sidewalk is replaced by Hans and his wife. Violence is no longer something happening to strangers, it isn't media fodder, it isn't an element of a "spooky story", it isn't simply something that happens in movies. What Martin thought was a good story is actually part of his friend's history, is a painful memory, a thing that has made Hans the man he is.
"WHAT ABOUT HAN'S WIFE BEING KILLED! Shouldn't that have made Martin realize violence happens to people he knows?! Sort of? But I think four things rob this event of its power. 1. Martin is, in a way, too "young" to really grasp the fact Han's wife has really been murdered (he's still a rookie with violence). 2. Hans downplays the event. 3. Martin had never met Myra (Han's wife). 4. When Han's wife is killed, Martin and Hans haven't spent much time together, have, really, just met. Once Martin knows Han's history, that his daughter was murdered, that Hans has suffered and this is what gives him his backbone, is why Hans didn't flinch at gun point, and why grief is unable to grab Hans after Han's wife's demise.
The final loss of innocence, is, obviously, the revelation Martin is the Jack O'Diamonds killer. In classic "heroic journey" style, Martin, who has become, over the course of the movie, more reflective, more sober (so has gained self-control, and increased self-control is almost always a sign of maturation), reverts to his alcoholic ways. Violence isn't a historic thing, it isn't something that happens to strangers, it isn't a random thing, it isn't just a media story, it isn't just something that makes a story more interesting, it isn't just a tool for criminals, it isn't some weird aphrodisiac for psychopaths, IT IS SOMETHING HIS BEST FRIEND DOES! His best friend murders people. His best friend shot two people in the head right in front of him (Martin). Violence, this thing which had seemed so...distant...has been a part of Martin's life without him even knowing it, as close and subtle as his own shadow.
Of course, Martin, in his regressed state, boils violence down into its more morally generic black and white. Billy murdered people, Billy is bad. Martin's upset with Billy. Rightfully so, right?
This is where I discuss the two most thematically important scenes. Billy's imagining of the "final shootout" for Martin's movie, and Hans's recommendation of how to conclude the tale of the angry Vietnamese man.
Billy's final shootout is ridiculous. It's violence as spectacle and fun. It's violence as portrayed by Hollywood. People are killed in graphic ways. We see a montage of random bad guys being shot in the head. Billy isn't even saying who is firing the bullets at this point. It's just shots of people dying. The heroes are invincible for a good portion of the fight, they even line-up haha. Not only invincible but deadly, shooting and killing and shooting and killing, all the while untouched. Then the heroes start falling, and of course it's in order of least important to most important. Psychopaths 4 (Vietnamese man), 5 (Zachariah), and 6 (Maggie), go down. The love interest of Martin is killed. Martin, enraged, breaks his pacifism and mows people down with uzis. I can't remember if Hans is killed in this shootout; I think he isn't. But, Jack O'Diamonds is shot, is thought dead, but isn't dead and kills Costello before Costello can kill Martin and Hans (?). Costello gets an arrow through the neck then shotgunned in the head so his head explodes. Then the Jack O'Diamonds dies, and Billy tells us as the camera pans up the bit of blue in the sky symbolizes hope, a violent-less world. This is a Hollywood firefight nearing a maximum of cliche and cheesy-ness. Which is appropriate.
McDonagh's film is as much of a spoof of violence in cinema as Hot Fuzz was of action movies and Shaun of the Dead of Zombie movies. Bickle for god's sake is such an obvious reference to Taxi Driver, not to mention we see Billy TALKING TO HIMSELF IN THE MIRROR JUST LIKE TRAVIS. Zachariah and Maggie could be Bonnie and Clyde. When the psychopaths line-up horizontally and fire, killing bad guys, while the bad guys return fire and continuously miss the good guys, this could be a reference to not The Expendables but the movies done by the cast of The Expendables, where the Action Hero is bulletproof. The movie opens with a fucking shot of the Hollywood sign. McDonagh made his intentions clear from the beginning, and this final shootout scene is him ripping on the typical use of violence in Hollywood.
But this simplified exploitation of violence is similar to the perception of violence at the beginning of the movie: random, used to coerce, part of a story, something for the media to discuss, used for retribution, used out of anger.
Compare this to Martin's description of what he had envisioned for the Vietnamese man.
Martin said he knew the guy's story had to end with bloodshed. What's he tell us? (bare with me as I recount the details:) The Vietnamese guy was a soldier in the Vietnam War, comes back home to find his wife and kid killed, begins hunting down soldiers of the Charlie Company (I think that was it), decides he's going to blow them all up at some Vietnam memorial conference, not to mention killing the hooker in the hotel room before the Vietnam memorial conference. This is a way more serious story than Billy's "final shootout", but I think the use of violence is worse. Why worse? Billy's scene is B-grade shit. If violence were a hot, bombshell, supermodel girl, Billy is the guy who recognizes she's still a human being that burps, farts, shits, has flaws, imperfections, things she is self-conscious about, and he talks to her like a human being who likes to laugh, who can be bored, who can trip, and she respects him for it. Because she's used to the guys like Martin, who put violence on a pedestal, honors violence, glorifies violence, stutters in the presence of violence, asks violence basic questions (do you like movies? do you like food? have you ever been to Paris? I have a BMW. can I buy you a drink?). What I'm saying: Martin's portrayal of violence takes violence seriously, but it's the seriousness of a virgin, it's a cliche revenge story where the entire point of the story is the use of violence, is no different than someone who has never had sex describing the cliche things people say about sex.
How does Hans re-imagine the tale of the Vietnamese man? First, the hooker isn't an idiot, or a play thing, or a victim. Hans attempts to give her some history, some dimension (another critique of the Hollywood action revenge plot/tale of violence/action hero movie). The Vietnamese man has a bomb strapped to the hooker woman, brings her into the conference room, douses the entrance in gasoline and is preparing to light THEM on fire. Then he's told this won't change anything/this won't solve anything (I can't remember which). Then we flash to saigon, and this monk becomes Thich Quang Duc (or at least a version of Thich) protesting the persecution of Buddhists by setting HIMSELF on fire. A monk tells Tich 2.0 this won't change anything/this won't solve anything, and Tich 2.0 responds "But it might" or "But it could". He then torches himself in front of everyone (including the concerned, beautiful woman who was once nothing more than a naked hooker (albeit a great looking naked hooker)).
And this brings us to the point of the movie. Violence is a weapon of transformation. And like any weapon, it is at the mercy of its wielder. A gun used by an angry teenager is much different than a gun used by a police officer. A bomb used to bring down a condemned building so a new one can rise up is a not the same as a bomb used in a healthy, busy marketplace. This point is reaffirmed by Billy's actions. The random acts of violence committed by Billy as the Jack O'Diamonds aren't without purpose. Billy says he is doing it to inspire Martin, to help him with his script, to give him something to write about. And we should believe him because throughout the entire movie all we see is Billy wanting to be a good friend to and for Martin. If this weren't the case, Billy reasoning could be seen as nothing more than psychotic justification. Sure, Billy is enjoying the violence. But his personal pleasure isn't what spurred him on. From his "final shootout", we know he views himself as a martyr, as a sacrifice for Martin's art, his career, his life. And that's how Billy's life ends. He accepts the bullet from Costello.
("WHAT ABOUT WHEN HE SHOT COSTELLO IN THE BACK!!!" There's no solid answer for this. For me, I think this: Billy felt the final shootout was important, and Costello came alone. By shooting Costello, Billy is hoping Costello either calls for reinforcements or dies and his henchmen come after Billy/Martin. If Billy had really wanted to kill Costello, he could have shot him better the first time, or shot him when he was on the ground. Killing Costello wasn't the point. What Billy wanted was to get to the final shootout.)
Violence as a means of transformation is exemplified in Martin. Not because he finished his screenplay, but that has something to do with it. Obviously it has to do with Zachariah's reaction to Martin. Martin, who had been a neophyte in bloodshed, was obviously fearful of Zachariah upon their first meeting. Why? Because Zachariah was a self-proclaimed psychopath, and this scared more-innocent Martin. When Zachariah calls Martin and tells Martin Martin broke his promise, that Martin promised on his life, that he, Zachariah, was going to make good on that promise, Martin, like Hans, like Billy, remains calm. His volume drops. Not from alarm. From acceptance, assurance. Zachariah recognizes he is no longer speaking to the man who made the promise. This isn't some Hollywood hot-shot who knows nothing about a crimson-stained soul, who needs to use the sins and pain of others because he lacks his own grueling experiences, who is commercializing and glorying a thing that's awful and that he doesn't understand. Instead, Zachariah recognizes another member of the saddest fraternity in existence: the victims.
("Zachariah isn't a victim! He was the one killing people!" As far as I'm concerned, the violence-er and the violence-ee are both victims. Maybe the violence-er doesn't suffer the same physical or emotional experiences of the victim, but he or she is not unscathed by the perpetration. See this book.)
Did I Like It:
Yes. I think this movie is misunderstood. It has way more depth and power than most critics gave it credit for. It's not just a genre-bender (see the assessment).
I've thought about it a lot since seeing it. I like it more and more. I laughed a good amount. I thought there were cool shots. I enjoyed the characters. And fuck if I didn't love the story of the Vietnamese man. I like too how the Vietnamese man is a stand-in for Hans. His story is more glorious than Hans's, but Hans's arc is the same. I'll write more on this in another inquiry.
I think it's a movie people will watch for some years.
I think it's a movie writers should watch. And actors.
% Character / % Actor's personality / Uniqueness grade for actor
-movies in this talky-dark-comic-violent genre: Pulp Fiction; Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels; Smokin' Aces
-movies with violent anti-heroes: A Clockwork Orange; Tyrannosaur; The Crow; Natural Born Killers; LA Confidential
-movies with scenes in deserts: The Hangover; Raising Arizona; Aladdin; Badlands; The Road Warrior; Tremors
-movies with "Seven" in the title: Seven Samurai; The Seven Year Itch; Seven Years in Tibet; Seven
-movies with exploding heads: Raiders of the Lost Ark; Mars Attacks; Pulp Fiction
-Dostoyevsky books: Notes from Underground; The Brothers Karamazov; The Idiot
-Russian writers: Nabokov; Tolstoy; Solzhenitsyn; Chekhov; Gogol; Tolstaya