David Fincher’s Se7en is a crime thriller that has become one of my favorite film of all-time. It initially appears as your typical run-of-the-mill serial killer movie but manages to go against all the viewer’s expectations. Fincher crafted an incredibly dark and bleak movie and the absolutely shocking final twist takes you aback like very few movies I have seen have ever managed to do. Since this movie has been released nearly 15 years ago, this review will contain important spoilers, I STRONGLY advise against reading beyond this point if you plan on seeing this movie.
As the film begins, we meet Detective William R. Somerset (Morgan Freeman), a disillusioned and burnt-out homicide detective who is set to retire within a week and only wants to get as far away as possible from this gloomy and decaying city. Alongside Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt), a brash and cocky young police officer who is set to replace him, Somerset investigates a series of murders inspired by the seven deadly sins.
Structurally, Se7en is unlike most movies of its genre. We never witness the acts of violence, only their aftermaths. There is also only one single action scene, a thrilling chase sequence mid-way through the movie. On the other hand, Se7en is very heavy in terms of dialogue and character development and we spend a lot of time getting to know the 4 main characters. Finally, one of the first thing you will notice is the oppressive atmosphere. The interior scenes are almost unequivocally extremely dark, damp, and cramped. You can almost smell the stench of putrefaction. This was achieved thanks to the cinematography by Darius Khondji and the sets design by Arthur Max. They set a dark and gloomy atmosphere for most of the movie and the omnipresent rain on outdoor scenes only adds to that effect.
Fincher repeatedly plays with the viewer’s expectations. Somerset states at one point that John Doe is eventually going to make a mistake and that’s our expectation after having been conditioned by dozens of crime movies where the criminal ends up making a stupid mistake that leads to his own demise. However, in Se7en, John Doe is always in control from beginning to end. He surrenders himself to law enforcement but everything is still under his terms. He is given substantial amount of dialogue and we discover that he is not only a cunning and extremely intelligent individual but also extremely articulate and almost too convincing when trying to explain his”work”.
Morgan Freeman gives an outstanding subtle performance which elevates the performance of his co-stars. This is exactly the type of acting I’m talking about when I speak about conveying a character’s background without the viewer actually having to be told. We get to know Somerset’s life with very little dialogue and this is what makes Freeman a superb actor. We can see his personality evolve as he takes Mills under his wing after a relatively cold beginning to their relationship. He begins as this cynic and tired cop who has seen too much over the years but the layers start to peel away as he interacts with the young Mills and more importantly Tracy, who reminds him of innocence he hadn’t witnessed in so long. Beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow, as Mills’ wife Tracy, provides the few rays of brightness and hopes amid the oppressively gloomy settings and I would have liked to see more of her character.
Brad Pitt gives a somewhat uneven and uni-dimensional performance (I’m harping here, he is fine). His character would have been more likable, had he been infused with another layer of complexity beyond the all-brawn personality he displays for most of the movie. Finally, Kevin Spacey embodies the personality of the most dangerous people on Earth, fanatical individuals with nothing to lose and nothing to gain. Here, he is simply pitch-perfect, giving John Doe an aura of mellow and collected detachment that is incredibly creepy.
A masterpiece of the 90′s, Se7en is an oppressively dark and grisly crime thriller that has aged very well, so far.
Notes: Rated R for grisly after-views of horrific and bizarre killings, and for strong language. 127 minutes.