Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Seven Psychopaths


McDonagh and the Seven Psychos

It appears McDonagh has picked up right where he left off with his 2008 cult hit, In Bruge. His second collaboration with Farrell is set much closer to home and journeys a the wacky 'n' wild adventure of three unlikely heroes in an absurd mess.

When writer and alcoholic Marty (Colin Farrell) struggles to come up with the screenplay for his hopeful movie 'Seven Psychopaths', Billy (Sam Rockwell) sets out to help inspire his best friend by embodying a psychopathic serial killer who leaves a Jack of Diamonds playing card with the body of his victims. While Billy continues his daily business as a part-time dog kidnapper to reap the owner's reward money with his partner in crime Hans (Christopher Walken), the three fools become inadvertently entangled in LA's criminal underworld when they steal gangster Charlie's (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu. Charlie is not a man to be messed with and when the trio cross paths with him and their loved ones start getting a bullet in the head, the end is nigh. But an incessant Billy will do everything in his power to have it end his way.

Ultimately, what McDonagh delivers is a movie within a movie; though consciously never duping the audience, a fuzzy line is created between fiction and reality. The metafilm is by no means an unfamiliar cinematic concept, having been executed in fellow comedies/spoofs such as Adaptation, Tropic Thunder and the Scream quadrilogy, and sometimes assumes to be more clever than it actually is. Confusing the psychopaths of the film, and those that are in Marty's diagetic film. The screenplay 'Seven Psychopaths' is more of a jumble of serial killer case studies and is never fully realised. But it works successfully to distort the conventional narrative norm, disorientates the audience's attentive flow and well executes an interesting riff for storytelling. Carter Burwell too returns from In Bruge to provide the electic music composition.

Seven Psychopaths excels in its boldly comedic, tastefully parodic nature which is uphold for the most part. It thrives on Tarentino-esque jaunty dialogue and delights in its excessive bloody and broody violence, as well as half-heartedly touching upon spiritual and emotional themes. However, its overt self-awareness simmmers stupidity in it's less entertaining scenes, and- though far and few between- suffers when the concentration momentarily lies solely with the goofy ridiculouness and unoriginality of the dog chase premise. Nevertheless, these are welcomingly saved by a sudden flash of a character's ludicrously bad idea or an insight into his lurid imagination. The scenes of vivid imagery that encapture Billy's fictional dreamlike realm are the more absorbing and amusing as we enter the wishful imaginings of his dream shoot out. Billy is used both as the caricature of the 'psychopath', and unquestioningly as the prominent satirial vehicle that unhinges the generic western/action/crime movie.

McDonagh and his impressive ensemble cast creates a fun, lighthearted disposition of characters whose unliklely situation allows for a playful and humorous observation into several interpersonal conflicts. Farrell is our initial interest- a disheartened drunk whose relationship is in tatters and is struggling to fulfill his aspirations to write a dream script. But it is Billy and Hans who become the more intruguing characters, rolling the dice in a game which Marty idly is forced to play. Rockwell's highly animated, crazy-eyed madman character is most compelling and provides an engaging contrast to Walken's composed character who has religiously reformed to forget a violent history. As usual, time and time again, it is Walken's prescence that steals the screen.

Though Mickey Rourke had originally been set for the role of Charlie, McDonagh has undoubtedly been blessed with a superlative replacement, as Harrelson manifests the hot-headed, but camp, gangster with ease. Having recently played a misogynist, racist veteren cop in crime drama Rampart, and the zombie-killing, twinkie-eating badass in comedy Zombieland- not to mention the infamous serial-killer Mickey Knox in Natural Born Killer's- Harrelson appears to be perfect for the character of hard-nut gangster in a comedy film about psychopathic serial killers. And he is.

VERDICT: Overall, a thoroughly entertaining, erratic self-mockery of the textbook psychopath and the genres associated with them, using the metafilm to play on its stereotypical implications in its finest moments. Even the Irish is an alcoholic.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Hunt (or Jagten)


The hunter becomes the hunted.

Revisiting his successful, acclaimed 1998 film Festen (or Celebration Day) Thomas Vinterburg digs the themes of child abuse in Danish society back up.

The Hunt's Danish Director and co-writer is a household name in the film industry of his native country, being a brother to the founding of the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement which established rules for simplifying film production. Though his more recent features- both Dutch and English-speaking- have flopped, it seems that Vinterburg has finally found his feet.

After a messy divorce, Lucas (Mads Mikkelson) has settled in a small, close-knit Denmark town and is finally getting his life back together when a young girl with a vivid imagination makes an accusation against him that will change his life forever. Lucas loses his job at the town's nursery and is hunted by the angry villagers when his best friend's child Klara (Anikka Wedderkopp) claims to have been subjected to sexual abuse at his hands. Doubted by his friends and alone in his suffering, The Hunt deals with an innocent man's struggle as his whole world falls apart around him.

It is no suprise that Mikkelson picked up the award for Best Actor at Cannes this year. He delivers an astounding and gripping performance as a man who teeters on a fine line between witholding dignity and courage and verging on an emotional breakdown. He charms in his overwhelming ability to hide an incessant, lingering pain and steals the screen with his distressing reactions to the villagers torment. Though probably most recognized as the eye-weeping bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, Mikkelson has become a well-known face in the film industry outside of his birth country. The Danish actor and rising star has occupied smaller roles in box-office hits such as Clash Of The Titans and King Arthur, as well as in smaller titles like Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself.

Accusations of peadophilia, child molestation or other sexual wrongdoings- whether true or false- and its consequences is by no means an original direction within the medium, explored previously in a number of films such as The Woodsman, Mysterious Skin and Evilenko. But what Vinterburg achieves is tastefulness, avoiding the typical graphic displays and focus on the incident in question, and instead focusing on the consequential aftermath and the concerns of those characters effected. As Lucas is always positioned to be wrongly accused, we as an audience never dispute his innocence. Vinderburg even hints his genuine professionality at times, telling Klara off after she kisses him. We are able to pity Lucas and his painfully unfortunate situation as he becomes a target of abuse himself as shops refuse him service, a butcher violently confronts him, a shot is fired through his window, and his dog is killed. What we observe in the following acts is not only how Lucas becomes socially marginilized and withdrawn to the fortress of his home, but the emotional journey and pressure that the characters involved go through- particularly interestingly in Lucas' best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen). What is so absorbing is how we see the primary raw reactions of anger and sadness transform as time progresses, the uncertainty of the claim emanates, and the community is forced to confront themselves.

Although delivered in an extreme and sensitive case, Vinterburg communicates an underlying message of childrens capabilities to lie, and the extent to which one little dangerous lie can cause life-changing havoc. He purposely, and successfully, avoids outright blame and irrationality by creating situations where both the emotions of the supposed victims (the villagers) and the actual victim (Lucas) can be understood. However, at the same time Vinterburg overtly challenges the cemented adult connotations between 'child', 'innocence' and 'truthfulness', and somewhat damns the parents- and authortive figures- who undoubtedly help spiral one childs uncertainties into a fermented truth to cover their backs. Even when Klara admits she said something 'foolish', her statement is disregarded as a lack of memory due to mental scarring. Arguably too, a slight dig at the accessibility of porn to underage children- from which the young female accuser is confused and misled by- is a welcome one.

The 'hunting' metaphor is an obvious one in terms of Lucas as the predator who hunts deers as a traditional village hobby, but then becomes the victim- the hunted, the deer. But more importantly it is used as a vehicle for visualising Lucas' everlasting feelings of worry and uneasiness; an ongoing reminder of becoming once again a form of prey, even after the events have passed.

VERDICT: A compelling, heart-wrenching waiting game that is gripping from multiple characters perception. A realistic, provincial examination into a harsh and dangerous situation which profuses anguish, frustration and utter heartbreak.