“Seven Psychopaths” is one of those films that you can’t fully sum up just by describing the plot or the characters, because it seems like it’s playing a lot of games with the viewer at all times.
Taken just on the surface, as a plot-driven comedy, it’s fun. In my review of the film from the Toronto Film Festival, where it played as part of the Midnight Madness section, I talked about how it also serves as an “Adaptation”-style deconstruction of the creative process. That’s a hard thing to sell to an audience, though, and it’s basically just the gravy. If the film didn’t work as a character comedy first, it wouldn’t work at all, and thanks to both the sharp writing and the dizzyingly funny performances, it absolutely works on that level.
I was recently re-watching episodes of “Cheers” on Netflix for the first time in what must be 20 years years, and I was struck anew by just how sharp and polished a comic performer Harrelson was from the moment we were introduced to him on that show. He had the unenviable task of replacing the beloved Nicholas Colasanto who played “Coach” on the show, and it’s a testament to just how charming Harrelson is that he managed the feat with almost no kickback from fans at all. He ended up appearing in over 200 episodes, more than twice as many as Coach, and by the time the series wrapped up, it would have been easy for Harrelson to settle into a long career of playing amiable dopes, something Hollywood would have been happy to accommodate.
When he starred in “Natural Born Killers,” it changed everything for him, and it became suddenly clear that Harrelson was capable of far more than just joking. The violence that he tapped into in the role is one of those things you can’t completely fake. Either you have that capacity as a performer or you don’t, and Harrelson has been able to tap into that side of himself repeatedly over the years, to impressive effect. What I love about his role in “Seven Psychopaths” is that it seems to give him room to indulge both sides of his personality. He is both very funny and truly menacing, and in a film packed with scene-stealing performances, Harrelson more than holds his own.
We’ll have more interviews with the cast this week. “Seven Psychopaths” opens in theaters tomorrow.