In 2008, Colin Farrell collaborated with writer/director Martin McDonagh on what was to be both Farrell’s finest performance and the best film of the year: In Bruges. It’s a hard act to follow, but Seven Psychopaths is a good try; this time Farrell is Marty, presumably a figure for McDonagh, a Hollywood screenwriter struggling with the script for a new crime picture that is part Tarantino, part Pinter.
Marty’s friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) is eager to help – perhaps a little too eager, since he places an ad in the paper inviting actual psychopaths to present themselves and tell their stories. Meanwhile, Billy and his mentor Hans (Christopher Walken) have a lucrative side business: they kidnap rich people’s dogs, keep them for a day or so, and then return them for a reward. This backfires when they kidnap the beloved shih tzu of vengeful crime lord Charlie (Woody Harrelson).
And so the movie unspools, jumping between Marty’s imagined script, Billy’s embellishments, the recollections of the psychopaths they talk to, and Charlie’s relentless pursuit. The script is a clever fusion of revenge-movie tropes and the kind of philosophy bantered about by the In Bruges hitmen, with amusing commentary on crime movies sprinkled throughout (“you can blow a woman’s head off, but don’t hurt the animals”). The whole cast rises to the script, but Rockwell shines as a man who is truly unhinged, even in comparison to the psychopaths around him.
In the wrong hands, Seven Psychopaths could have been a smug and hypocritical genre exercise; instead it is smart, funny, and genuine, and well worth a look.
Over the last few years I have been reading the Inspector Rebus novels of Scottish writer Ian Rankin, whose works account for something like a quarter of all mystery book sales in the UK. I have never been a compulsive mystery novel reader, finding many of them to be tedious; but when I find a character and supporting cast that I like, be it Rebus, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, or Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, I will gladly follow.
So it has been with Rebus, the cantankerous Detective Inspector from Edinburgh who aged in real time in Rankin’s series, from a book called Knots and Crosses through sixteen more, concluding with Exit Music. More so than most writers of any genre, the series gave Rankin an opportunity to reflect the changing times in his home country, not only for the police and criminals but for the ordinary citizen as well. Through it all, Rebus keeps his head down and does the job, seeing that justice is served more often than not, spending his off-hours in the Oxford bar or listening to old records at home, unable to maintain more than a few friendships.
As Rankin’s signature series wound down, he decided to start a new one from a slightly different vantage point; that of the “Complaints,” the Scottish equivalent of the Internal Affairs division, featuring a detective called Malcolm Fox. Fox shares some qualities with Rebus, most notably a willingness to circumvent procedure in the name of justice; but he is also younger and does not drink. In any case Fox allows Rankin a window through which to show the continuing evolution of Scotland, including the increased accountability of its police and public figures. There are only two novels featuring Fox published to date; I was pleased to learn that a new one entitled Standing in Another Man’s Grave will be released early next year, in which Fox meets the now-retired Rebus.
It’s been a while since I last read a story written and drawn by comics veteran Howard Chaykin, and coincidentally I picked up the original hardcover collection of his series Black Kiss a couple of weeks ago. His new book Marked Man is a revenge story originally serialized in Dark Horse Presents, about an assassin called Mark LaFarge who is double-crossed by a client. He survives an attack on his home and goes into hiding, planning payback for the deaths of his wife and son. Along the way he attracts the interest of a female police detective, who is unable to prevent Mark’s endgame because a security guard won’t let her into a male-only resort.
That was just one of the many eye-rolling moments I encountered in Marked Man; moments of strange, anachronistic sexism or homophobia. I wouldn’t really think twice if I ran across similar moments in, say, one of Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations or Steranko’s Chandler; but it is distracting here, and feels more like posturing than an authentic part of the world that Chaykin is trying to build. A book like this, where the main character is really quite an asshole, is a hard enough sell; the script has to be as polished as possible, and that is not the case here. I have never been a particular fan of Chaykin’s art style either, mainly because everyone tends to look the same; this is especially noticeable in Marked Man, where the combination of character design and clothing gives the book the feel of an unintentional period piece, as if Chaykin found a bunch of pages he drew sometime in the 90s.
If you are a hardcore Chaykin fan, or if you just like grim crime stories, I expect you will want to check out Marked Man. Otherwise, your time and cash are better spent on the reissues of Black Kiss or American Flagg.