Two hitmen are standing around in the bright sunlight of the Los Angeles morning and discussing various gunshot wounds that can be fatal, one observing that John Dillinger died of a bullet through the eyeball, though when the other mentions he stabbed someone through the ear he is criticised for getting off the subject in hand. As conversation turns to torture, the fact that they are awaiting their next victim is forgotten for the moment, and both are unaware of the masked man advancing on them, gun drawn - Jack of Diamonds, aka Psychopath No. 1.
There was more than a slight post modernist tinge to the dramatics in writer and director Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths inasmuch as it preoccuppied itself with the art of storytelling, and screenwriting in particular. In fact, it looked for all the world like he had been struggling to pen the script for this and ended up throwing every idea he could, no matter how awkward, into the mix, excusing the more out there or even amateurish aspects by having them the product of authors desperate for inspiration or bereft of good material yet unaware how foolish their invention is. At times the production resembled a writer undergoing some form of artistic crisis.
We had to assume Colin Farrell's character, expat Hollywood screenwriter Marty, was a surrogate for McDonagh, for though this was a British movie it was set in the United States and revolved around Americans for the most part, with Marty developing a drinking problem and not feeling as if he truly fits in with the culture there, no matter how much he kids himself he's settled. His wife Kaya (Abbie Cornish) seems constantly in passive aggressive "No, I'm not going to tell you why I'm upset" mode, and his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is cheery but living a life of petty crime even if he is offering input to Marty's faltering script.
That script, as we discover, is sort of the one we're watching, so the narrative lurches between the stuff that's supposed to be happening in "real life" and the dramatisations of what might be in the Seven Psychopaths script, that is the film within the film which is actually the one we're sitting through anyway... are you following this? With characters offering critiques on how it's all going the accusation you could level at this was that it was too clever for its own good, and no matter how it attempted to excuse its failings with obfuscations the fact remained it was a ramshackle affair from first scene to last. While that sounded as if it would be a shambles of a movie to experience, there was a shaggy dog quality about it which proved oddly winning.
Not only because there were actually shaggy dogs in it either. Billy runs a racket with his elderly pal Hans (Christopher Walken) where they dognap pooches and pretend to have found them so they can claim a reward from the owners. Unfortunately for them, they pick up the wrong mutt, a Shih Tzu named Bonny owned by one of the psychopaths, a mob boss named Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who is more attached to his pet than he is to any actual human being. This is building to a confrontation, with the assassin we saw at the beginning bumping off gangsters and their associates in a serial killer style, though the title cheats as Psycho No. 1 is revealed to be Psycho No. 7, which by anybody's estimation is one less Psychopath than we were promised. But then, as the film stutters to its finale, you may be pondering that this resembled a screenwriting exercise that somehow was filmed, appreciating you have seen Tom Waits and his pet rabbit and other such offbeat humour. Music by Carter Burwell.