SEVEN DEADLY SINS. SEVEN WAYS TO DIE.
Director David Fincher’s first feature, Alien³ (1992), had the misfortune of following in the footsteps of some of Ridley Scott’s and James Cameron’s best work. The results were certainly disappointing, but Fincher brought a sense of darkness and unease to the party. Three years later he found the perfect project for his style, a bright screenplay for a horror thriller written by Andrew Kevin Walker, a talent waiting to be discovered. Se7en became a film so unsettling and depressing that many critics found it hard to praise in spite of its brilliant ingredients.
In a city where it seems to be raining all the time, cocky detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) has just been transferred to a precinct where William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is considered to be one of the finest (and quirkiest) homicide investigators. Somerset is about to retire and is reluctant to take a new case that he instantly recognizes as something that will “just go on forever”. It begins with an obese man found face down in a plate of spaghetti, which he has been fed until his stomach burst. The next death turns out to be a lawyer. The word “greed” has been written in his blood on the floor of his office; Somerset eventually finds the word “gluttony” scribbled on a wall in the obese man’s apartment. The killer seems to be inspired by the concept of the seven deadly sins and there could be five more victims waiting.
The detectives read up on Dante and Chaucer in order to get inside the killer’s mind, find more initially invisible clues left on the murder scenes… and Somerset also bonds with Mills’s wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) who turns out to be just as tired of this dirty, dark city as he is.
Spine-chilling, gritty, raw atmosphere
One reason why The Silence of the Lambs (1991) frightened its audience was that an actor not widely known (Anthony Hopkins) was hired to completely embody a person who could only exist in your nightmares. This film does the same trick; Kevin Spacey may be hard to think of now as a serial killer, but he wasn’t famous when this film came and his confident, smug and creepy performance fits the intelligent and twisted killer like hand in glove. Wisely, the filmmakers don’t show him until at a certain dramatic point in the story – and that is fortunately not the beginning of a predictable end, but an ingenious new development.
The writer makes sure that in spite of Somerset’s experience and intelligence there is never any doubt that it is the killer, John Doe, who’s in charge all the way, winning the game, even when the police has him in handcuffs. The lead characters are very well written, not least David Mills who wears his weaknesses (short temper, lack of brains) on his sleeves and becomes an easy victim to manipulate. Pitt is very good in that part; he may seem irritating in comparison to the safe authority figure Freeman is playing, but he’s nevertheless a regular guy and many in the audience will see themselves in him (making the tragedy in the ending all the more real).
Cinematographer Darius Khondji and composer Howard Shore (whose score is reminiscent of the one he wrote for Silence of the Lambs) work in tandem to create a spine-chilling, gritty, raw atmosphere. The film touches you, both in scenes of tension but also in quieter moments.
There’s a tremendous sadness here in the depiction of urban horrors and people trapped in them. We don’t know which city the story takes place, but it might as well be called Hell because that’s where we are. Like Dante, Walker and Fincher introduce us to mankind’s vices and rub them in our faces. In the middle of it, there is a Devil, John Doe, having his way with us. Thank God it’s just a movie.
Se7en 1995-U.S. 127 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Arnold Kopelson, Phyllis Carlyle. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker. Cinematography: Darius Khondji. Music: Howard Shore. Editing: Richard Francis-Bruce. Cast: Brad Pitt (David Mills), Morgan Freeman (William Somerset), Kevin Spacey (John Doe), Gwyneth Paltrow, Richard Roundtree, R. Lee Ermey… John C. McGinley.
Trivia: Denzel Washington was allegedly considered for the part of Mills; David Cronenberg for directing duties.
Quote: “You’re no Messiah. You’re a movie of the week. You’re a fucking t-shirt, at best.” (Pitt to Spacey)
Last word: “‘Se7en’ was just a gripping yarn and I just felt like I hadn’t seen this movie and I hadn’t seen a movie that was kind of professing to be the procedural that became this other thing. I thought it was a structural… you know, it was as impressive to me that Kevin Spacey would show up spattered with blood at the two hour point of that movie as it is that Janet Leigh gets slashed to death in the shower in ‘Psycho’. It was such a different way to spin that top. So that was amazing.” (Fincher, FirstShowing.net)