By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The line between reality and cinema is blurred in the powerful but excessively violent drama "Seven Psychopaths" (CBS).
The complex plot of this wild work — pitched in the key of Quentin Tarantino’s "Pulp Fiction" — centers on borderline-alcoholic screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) and two of his friends: Hans (Christopher Walken), an ostensibly gentle veteran of life’s many woes, and twitchy misfit Billy (Sam Rockwell).
Hans and Billy have a scam going that involves kidnapping dogs and getting cash rewards for returning them to their unsuspecting owners, who think the pets have just gone missing. Devoted husband Hans uses the ill-gotten funds to finance wife Myra’s (Linda Bright Clay) breast cancer treatment.
But things go awry when Hans and Billy snatch crazed gangster Charlie’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved pooch. They’re forced to go on the lam, joined by Marty, who incorporates their experiences into a script he’s writing for a movie titled … "Seven Psychopaths."
Writer-director Martin McDonagh is firing on all aesthetic pistons, as too are his stars. But his serious meditation on the vicious cycle of wrongdoing and revenge — and the possibilities of living peacefully — is marred by off-the-charts bloodletting and scenes of sickening mayhem.
This is all the sadder since religion — or at least spirituality in the broadest sense — is portrayed as the principal gateway to force-eschewing enlightenment. Thus, one early vignette involves a criminal redeemed by his conversion to Catholicism, while a Vietnamese Buddhist monk plays a climactic role toward the close of McDonagh’s narrative.
Some of the moral points these figures are used to illustrate would not sit well with viewers of faith. Nor, probably, would a scene involving a prostitute and her client — a man pretending to be a priest. It’s nonetheless a shame that McDonagh’s lofty intentions are derailed by his characters’ relish for the very violence he ultimately intends to condemn. Also lost in the queasy shuffle is his screenplay’s unusually forthright affirmation of an afterlife.
The film contains pervasive gory violence, including torture and multiple suicides, nongraphic nonmarital sexual activity, a prostitution theme, upper female nudity, several uses of profanity and relentless rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.