Martin McDonagh Double Bill

For Irish audiences, playwright and director Martin McDonagh has proven a little hard to pin down. Born in London to Irish parents, there was the sneaking suspicion that he was an English writer laughing at the culchie Oirish with his plays, which don't always show the Irish in the best light. But then again, he endeared himself to them by disrupting a toast to the Queen at an award ceremony and telling Sean Connery to "fuck off". Good man yerself, Martin, ye drunken feckin eejit!! But whatever his allegiances, there's no denying he is a singular and clever writer, with several successful West End plays under his belt and a slew of awards to his name, not to mention a host of big name actors queuing up to play his characters. Not content with that lot, he made the leap to movies in 2004, hitting the big time immediately by winning an Oscar for his excellent short film, Six Shooter (watch it here), which showcased his ability to blend tragedy, comedy and violence to disorientating effect. So it was no surprise to find him progressing to write and direct feature films, which - you've guessed it! - I review here.

In Bruges (2008) wrong-footed a lot of people on its initial release. Courtesy of a fairly misleading advertising campaign, most people expected a bickering buddy action-comedy. And, in fairness to the advertising men, it does partly deliver that as hitmen Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) lie low in the Belgian town of Bruges following a botched hit, and squabble over mundane things like sightseeing. So far, so Tarantino-esque. However, what sets this apart from that crowd is the unexpectedly metaphysical turn that proceedings take, as the tragic reasons for being in Bruges become apparent and the city is revealed as a kind of symbolic Purgatory for the duo. If that all sounds a bit heavy, don't worry, as it's immensely entertaining in the process, with a racist dwarf (Jordan Prentice) and a foul-mouthed criminal (Ralph Fiennes) turning up to assist Farrell and Gleeson in delivering some viciously funny dialogue and un-PC belly-laughs, although you might find yourself wondering if you're supposed to be laughing. But the real testament to McDonagh's writing is that the black comedy and violence is balanced with something much more profound and affecting, which is likely to catch you unawares on first viewing, not least in the terrific Raglan Road scene, and in the delivery of the quite wonderful final line.

In his follow-up film, Seven Psychopaths (2012), McDonagh pokes fun at Hollywood and its output with a story of a struggling screenwriter, Marty (Colin Farrell), who inadvertently gets mixed up with various criminals and psychopaths when his mate Billy (Sam Rockwell) and partner Hans (Christopher Walken) steal the beloved dog of a menacing gangster (Woody Harrelson). Can the film avoid falling into the very cliches that Marty is trying to avoid with his film? Well, this is a film that wants to have its cake and eat it. Wait. That makes no sense; those two things aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, one is pretty much dependent on the other, and an entirely obvious thing to do. What else would you do with the cake? So it's probably more accurate to say this film wants to have its cake and do something fun and clever with it, rather than just eat it. So, after high-fiving itself on bucking cake-ownership-and-consumption convention, it tries to tart it up into a sort of meta-cake, but the recipe doesn't quite work out, and it ends up resorting to eating it anyway, making self-effacing jokes about how it conformed to the standard cake-eating scenario after all. But somehow the laughter can't quite hide a certain hollowness at not having not done something more inventive with the cake recipe. (Note to Martin McDonagh - you can borrow all that if you wish for your new script).

And then, well...FUCK! JESUS!...I'm not really sure where to take this cake analogy anymore, so maybe I'll just go back to normal reviewing, which is to say that it's all very watchable and there's plenty of laughs to be had at the un-PC dialogue, mostly courtesy of Sam Rockwell, who is fuckin' brilliant in this. But after the wonderful In Bruges, I couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed that it all felt a bit insubstantial. Still, for some good moments throughout, I'd give it Seven Psychopaths out of 10. Hope that joke made you laugh, and let's forget all that cake nonsense above, shall we? It didn't quite work the way it should have. If you're reading this, Martin, I feel your writer's pain.

But wait! Maybe that's exactly the point McDonagh is making about how Hollywood makes films? Oh, he's a slippery one alright, that McDonagh. Is he laughing with me, or at me....?

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