Writer-director Martin McDonagh has received numerous accolades as a playwright but it wasn’t until his first theatrical feature In Bruges that he amassed a new following with film lovers. The direct and debonair style of that debut film surprised those who saw it, proving not only that Colin Farrell is a great actor when he wants to be but also introducing McDonagh as a force to be reckoned with in film.

He has teamed with Colin Farrell yet again for his follow-up feature Seven Psychopaths and it’s a deliberate change of pace for the duo. It lacks the focus and depth of In Bruges but still manages to stand on its own as solid entertainment.

Farrell stars as Marty, an alcoholic wannabe writer with (of course) writer’s block. His new idea for a novel boasts a catchy title (Seven Psychopaths) and nothing else. He’s plagued with no research, no imagination and absolutely no inspiration. But inspiration for better or worse comes in the form of Marty’s dog-stealing friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), a loose cannon who epitomizes the word psycho. Billy is the last person Marty should listen to but out of desperation and laziness, they begin to work together, recruiting actual psychopaths for inspiration.

The ensuing research leads on a collision course of brutal violence, lost dogs and a spiritual trip through the desert. Seven Psychopaths is a scattered and interesting mess but amidst the chaos still has fun with itself. There are flashbacks and dream sequences that border on the absurd, but that’s the point. The poignancy of In Bruges is nowhere to be found in Seven Psychopaths but both films share a very dark sense of humor that while subdued in the former, is let loose in the latter.

The film’s ensemble cast also includes Woody Harrelson as a ruthless gangster with a weakness for his prized Shih Tzu, Tom Waits as a deranged killer and Christopher Walken as the other half of the dognapping duo. In fact, Walken and Rockwell completely steal the movie in their limited scenes together and embody a yin-and-yang relationship. One is a beaten-down man looking for an easy way out and the other is a ticking time bomb, bristling with energy and ready to explode at a moment’s notice.

McDonagh’s dialogue shines the most in Rockwell’s psychotic portrayal of Billy with Walken playing the straight man. If there’s any justice during this year’s Oscar race, Rockwell will at the very least be nominated for his earth-scorching performance. He’s that good and while opinions may be mixed on the film itself there’s no doubt the man is the obvious standout amidst a barrage of heavy-hitters. That’s saying something.

Grade: B

Rated: R (for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use)

Seven Psychopaths opens in theaters on October 12, 2012 and was screened as a part of Midnight Madness at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.

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