A fast paced action thriller of explicit violence, all the better for a comedic turn and creative story telling.
Writer/director Martin McDonagh reunites with “In Bruges” leading man Colin Farrell for a rollicking junket into the wild side of high stakes crimes and, well, dogs. Small time crooks Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken) have a small time racket that is a small as it gets.
They steal dogs and then return them to the owner for the reward. This would be pathetic if it were not for Hans’ ulterior motive, to pay for his wife’s medical bills as she recovers from cancer.
Set in Los Angeles, the film starts with a shot of the Hollywood sign. There is something about the simple silliness of the sign, coupled with the intensity of the cast and crew of this film, that sets us up for a thriller.
The screenplay starts like a good, conventional, action comedy. The bumbling crooks have hearts of gold beneath their hurtful exteriors. While Hans is getting his wife well, Billy is encouraging his best friend Marty (Colin Farrell) to write the crime novel of the century.
As it turns out, Billy does more than suggest the occasional idea, he lives the ideas, at least in his imagination. The best part of the film is that the story is able to depart from the normal as Billy’s mind wanders about through various story lines.
The dog racket heats up when the pair inadvertently steal Bonny, the cherished shih tzu of cold blooded killer Charlie (Woody Harrelson), which eventually sets up the arch perp confrontation born in heaven, the showdown between Christopher Walken and Harrelson and their respective bands of psychopaths.
Consisting of seven distinct performances, including the one about the Vietnamese priest (Long Nguyen) who seeks revenge on America in most unusual ways, this film demands attention.
Of course, McDonagh has no more intention of playing this straight than he had with probing the minds of the two mob killers in “Bruges.” What transpires is a chase game followed by a desert peyote party with an outcome that even the off-the-wall Billy did not imagine.
It takes actors of the caliber of Walken and Harrelson to bring the right mix of absurdity and humanity into the world of psychopathic crime. They were perfectly chosen for this film and their parts were perfectly executed.
Sam Rockwell and Colin Farrell make a younger team that parallels the strengths, and weaknesses, of the two older characters. Everybody is trying to do the right thing and the wrong thing simultaneously, reflecting the broader mood of the world we live in.
Citing Terrence Malik (“Badlands and “Days of Heaven”) and Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch”), the director pulls no punches when it comes to bloody violence. People are killed without hesitation and with complete realism.
As the film progresses the tension tells on the characters and the script reflects the breaking down of rational thought. In so doing, McDonagh pulls the audience into the terrifying insanity while making us party to the disintegrating plot at the same time.
As the viewer and the cast lose track of reality at the same time, we are drawn into the plot and become insiders, perpetrators of our own special contribution to the irrationality of everyday life.
Small but priceless parts by Michael Pitt (“The Dreamers” and “Boardwalk Empire”) as hired killer Larry, Tom Waits (“The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”) as mystery psycho Zachariah and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”) as Sharice, the dog sitter on watch when Bonny disappears.
Soundtrack by Carter Burwell, the man behind both “In Bruges” and the redoubtable “Where the Wild Things Are,” with backup by Linda Ronstadt crooning “Different Drum” and sounding better than she sounded forty years ago.
It is rare to see a film with an elite cast and not read a review opining that one, several, or the entire cast was wasted. The amazing thing about this film is that not one of the actors is wasted. By the end of the movie we wish it could have been a three-hour film to show off more of what the actors, and director/screenwriter, could do.
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Directed and Written by: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell
Release Date: October 12, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug Run Time: 110 minutes