'90s Movie Month! "Se7en" Review

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Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman investigate the remains of a "John Doe" in an effort to understand the killer's motive including a link to the Seven Deadly Sins.
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'90s Movie Month! "Se7en" Review

Rating: R (Strong language, graphic depictions of bizarre and horrific killings)
Length: 127 minutes
Release Date: September 22, 1995
Directed by: David Fincher
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller

"Seven," or "Se7en" as depicted on movie posters and trailers, is a disturbing psychological thriller that isn't for the faint of heart. In this film, director David Fincher ("Alien 3," "Fight Club") combines a disturbing plot with masterful filmmaking that rewards those tough enough to bear a horrific look into a dark and evil mind.

The film opens with veteran detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and his new partner, David Mills (Brad Pitt), investigating the murder of an obese man who was forced to eat himself to death. The detectives learn the victim had been punished for the crime of gluttony. This soon proves to be the first discovered case in a string of killings linked to the seven deadly sins, with each murder scene more gruesome than the one before. As Somerset and Mills investigate further, they find each victim's punishment follows the theme of their crime, as in the case of a model whose face was disfigured and, rather than call for help, chose to die as a victim of pride.

In a twist not seen before in this genre, the killer (Kevin Spacey) is revealed thirty minutes before the final climax of the movie and gives his twisted reasoning for his premeditated plot to the detectives in a chilling manner. He even convinces Somerset and Mills to follow him to a remote location to solve the remaining crimes. By introducing the villain much earlier than usual for a crime thriller, writer Andrew Kevin Walker ("Sleepy Hollow," "The Wolfman") keeps the audience guessing and gives us a glimpse into the murderer's inhumane motives.

"Seven" interprets aspects of classic film noir in all the right ways. The opening scene of the movie is iconic for its use of noir elements and has been imitated many times since the film's release. Morgan Freeman is masterful in his portrayal of soon-to-be retired Detective Somerset as a man who has sacrificed much in life for his career. It's clear throughout the film, especially in his interactions with Detective Mills' wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), that Somerset's gruff manner has been cultivated to protect from continued disappointment. Freeman allows a glimmer of encouragement to come through Somerset's character as he tells a cautionary tale to Mrs. Mills about life's choices.

Brad Pitt plays the part of inexperienced detective David Mills very well, but is often dwarfed onscreen by Freeman's commanding presence. His characterization of Mills as a slightly-aloof, often-distracted man who tries his best to catch the bad guy complements Freeman's methodical and cynical Somerset. Pitt is able to show Detective Mills effectively as a driven detective who can be neglectful of his wife in favor of his job and also as a still-green cop who chooses to study the Cliff Notes versions of manuscripts the killer used to justify his murderous spree.

It's indeed very rare in a psychological thriller for the villain to be revealed before the film's final scenes, but Kevin Spacey's performance carries this anomaly and turns it into a great strength of this movie. Everything about Spacey's portrayal of John Doe suggests a man who truly believes in his twisted agenda. The killer's perpetually calm mood, low voice, and articulate speeches on morality are unsettling when considered with the bizarre crimes he has committed. Gwyneth Paltrow is disappointingly underused as Detective Mills' wife Tracy, but Paltrow brings a rare spot of light into the film as a concerned wife willing to sacrifice her wants for her husband's ambition.

"Seven" is a dark movie in literal terms as well as in its mood and it leans heavily on the atmosphere to set the tone. It seems to be raining almost constantly in the film, and even when the characters are in a lit room, the lighting falls just short of reaching the entire space. This convention fits the theme of the film and gives an overarching feeling of evil and foreboding. In the movie's final climax, with the three main characters under a blazing sun, there's still a muted quality to the images as if the horrific end is too much to show viewers in full resolution.

Although there's little action in the movie and the audience doesn't ever actually witness any of the grizzly crimes, "Seven" attacks the psyche with gruesome images and inhumane methods that aren't soon forgotten. It;s a film that combines film noir conventions, classic cop-movie relationships, and an insidious villain in the tradition of Hannibal Lecter from "Silence of the Lambs" successfully, albeit disturbingly.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars