Seven (1995)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Also known as “Se7en” when trying to have some fun.

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  David Fincher
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Starring:  Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow
Tagline:  Seven Deadly Sins.  Seven Ways to Die.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  crime, mystery, suspense, serial killer, religious
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  Recently reassigned Detective David Mills (Pitt) and unhappy wife Tracy (Paltrow) have just moved to a new city where David is hoping to make his big break as a serious detective.  He is partnered with the precise, calm, and exacting Detective William Somerset (Freeman) who has exactly seven days left of work before retiring.  The dividing differences between Mills and Somerset are immediately apparent as they deal with their first case of an obese man who has been forced to feed himself to death.  After this job Somerset asks for a transfer, but over the course of the week the two detectives find their developing murder cases are not only related but that they are puzzle pieces in an elaborate killing spree at the hands of the serial killer John Doe (Spacey).  Quickly realizing that each murder is committed in the form of one of the seven deadly sins, the detectives must work together to stop John Doe before he takes his final two victims.

No one can disagree that this film has an awesome plot and that it was very well executed in a darkly creative manner.  I’ve always liked Seven, and I find something new hidden in the details each time.

Taking something so basic and even old-fashioned as the seven deadly sins and actually making them deadly is ingenious.  The screenwriter(s) really must have been some (how to put this?) ‘strong-willed’ people to think of and write out the various murder scenes, which each in their own way is very violent although we always arrive after the crime is committed.  As in any typical police drama, we have the crime explained to us in hindsight, so afterwards we find ourselves imagining the scene, picturing the torture – and it’s then when our own imaginations begin to drift into horribly dark territories do we begin to understand the true nature of horror and violence in this movie.

The filming is done exceptionally well and the cinematography adds a few levels of depth and dreariness to the work.  All the rain in the movie is just plain depressing.  We are constantly experiencing scenes that take place in small rooms and restricted places, often with poor or gloomy lighting (even in Mills’ house), and after a certain point the viewer feels restricted and almost burdened, as if they were being pulled into the terror of the movie’s crimes and even the ordinary drabness of the anonymous city.  It’s easy to say that in every way this film is dark, reminiscent of the film-noir genre made famous by so many detective stories in the past.

While the plot itself is what really drives this movie forward (which murder is next?  how will it be done?), the acting is certainly a key element.  Before acting, though, comes characterization.  I never realized just how annoying Pitt’s character is throughout the entire movie until I watched it for the umpteenth time just now.  His callowness, however, allows us to truly appreciate the stark contrast that exists between Mills and Somerset.  From the very beginning we are shown how precise, organized, and even punctual Somerset is in all matters of his daily routine: his clothes are ironed and laid out in the morning, his accessories are lined up neatly before leaving the house, he is calm and collected even while investigating the most terrible murders, and most importantly every word he speaks is thought out well in advance.  Mills on the other hand is young and overeager; his ties are all pre-tied and simply thrown on before leaving for a job, his shirts are eternally wrinkled, he serves wine in highball glasses, and most notably he is rash and pugnacious not only in words but in action.  Even the smallest details between the two detectives is taken into account in the scene where the men are shaving their chests before being wired: Mills leaves his hot water running while shaving whereas the faucet in front of Somerset is clearly off – we can only assume he neatly, and symbolically (and in an environmentally friendly manner), has a sink full of warm water ready instead of wasting it all.  Details, people, details.

Acting wise I love Morgan Freeman as I would in any work of his.  He conveys the maturity and pure experience that Somerset needs to have.  Pitt – doesn’t he seem young? – does a good job as an overeager and annoying, boyish and pompous hothead (which get him into trouble on several accounts…)  I especially enjoy the final scene when Pitt is forced to switch from ‘really angry’ to ‘really sad’ while questioning in many tones “What’s in the box?” – a line I quote whenever there is a box involved, yet no one seems to get my reference.  A special congratulations goes out to Kevin Spacey as the serial killer John Doe.  While we don’t get to see a lot of him, his lines are delivered almost meticulously, in such a creepy matter with an air of femininity and instability that it becomes frightening.  You can’t fight a pious evil such as his.

The murders.  While all of them are terribly creative and well executed – and gross – few things that I’ve seen in horror movies have bugged me more than ‘lust’.  How terrible is that?  Finding the involved parties isn’t even as bad as the interrogation scene that follows (that actor is great).  After we learn about a murder such as that, we unfortunately have to deal with thoughts regarding how dark society really can be, and how pervertedly insane some murderers are.  Furthermore, as this film isn’t exactly scary, the murders do add the frights, thrills, and chills that we expect a decent horror movie to deliver.  ‘Sloth’ is another one that gets me cringing every time.  Really well done.

Plot overview:  Recently reassigned Detective David Mills (Pitt) and unhappy wife Tracy (Paltrow) have just moved to a new city where David is hoping to make his big break as a serious detective.  He is partnered with the precise, calm, and exacting Detective William Somerset (Freeman) who has exactly seven days left of work before retiring.  The dividing differences between Mills and Somerset are immediately apparent as they deal with their first case of an obese man who has been forced to feed himself to death.  After this job Somerset asks for a transfer, but over the course of the week the two detectives find their developing murder cases are not only related but that they are puzzle pieces in an elaborate killing spree at the hands of the serial killer John Doe (Spacey).  Quickly realizing that each murder is committed in the form of one of the seven deadly sins, the detectives must work together to stop John Doe before he takes his final two victims.

No one can disagree that this film has an awesome plot and that it was very well executed in a darkly creative manner.  I’ve always liked Seven, and I find something new hidden in the details each time.

Taking something so basic and even old-fashioned as the seven deadly sins and actually making them deadly is ingenious.  The screenwriter(s) really must have been some (how to put this?) ‘strong-willed’ people to think of and write out the various murder scenes, which each in their own way is very violent although we always arrive after the crime is committed.  As in any typical police drama, we have the crime explained to us in hindsight, so afterwards we find ourselves imagining the scene, picturing the torture – and it’s then when our own imaginations begin to drift into horribly dark territories do we begin to understand the true nature of horror and violence in this movie.

The filming is done exceptionally well and the cinematography adds a few levels of depth and dreariness to the work.  All the rain in the movie is just plain depressing.  We are constantly experiencing scenes that take place in small rooms and restricted places, often with poor or gloomy lighting (even in Mills’ house), and after a certain point the viewer feels restricted and almost burdened, as if they were being pulled into the terror of the movie’s crimes and even the ordinary drabness of the anonymous city.  It’s easy to say that in every way this film is dark, reminiscent of the film-noir genre made famous by so many detective stories in the past.

While the plot itself is what really drives this movie forward (which murder is next?  how will it be done?), the acting is certainly a key element.  Before acting, though, comes characterization.  I never realized just how annoying Pitt’s character is throughout the entire movie until I watched it for the umpteenth time just now.  His callowness, however, allows us to truly appreciate the stark contrast that exists between Mills and Somerset.  From the very beginning we are shown how precise, organized, and even punctual Somerset is in all matters of his daily routine: his clothes are ironed and laid out in the morning, his accessories are lined up neatly before leaving the house, he is calm and collected even while investigating the most terrible murders, and most importantly every word he speaks is thought out well in advance.  Mills on the other hand is young and overeager; his ties are all pre-tied and simply thrown on before leaving for a job, his shirts are eternally wrinkled, he serves wine in highball glasses, and most notably he is rash and pugnacious not only in words but in action.  Even the smallest details between the two detectives is taken into account in the scene where the men are shaving their chests before being wired: Mills leaves his hot water running while shaving whereas the faucet in front of Somerset is clearly off – we can only assume he neatly, and symbolically (and in an environmentally friendly manner), has a sink full of warm water ready instead of wasting it all.  Details, people, details.

Acting wise I love Morgan Freeman as I would in any work of his.  He conveys the maturity and pure experience that Somerset needs to have.  Pitt – doesn’t he seem young? – does a good job as an overeager and annoying, boyish and pompous hothead (which get him into trouble on several accounts…)  I especially enjoy the final scene when Pitt is forced to switch from ‘really angry’ to ‘really sad’ while questioning in many tones “What’s in the box?” – a line I quote whenever there is a box involved, yet no one seems to get my reference.  A special congratulations goes out to Kevin Spacey as the serial killer John Doe.  While we don’t get to see a lot of him, his lines are delivered almost meticulously, in such a creepy matter with an air of femininity and instability that it becomes frightening.  You can’t fight a pious evil such as his.

The murders.  While all of them are terribly creative and well executed – and gross – few things that I’ve seen in horror movies have bugged me more than ‘lust’.  How terrible is that?  Finding the involved parties isn’t even as bad as the interrogation scene that follows (that actor is great).  After we learn about a murder such as that, we unfortunately have to deal with thoughts regarding how dark society really can be, and how pervertedly insane some murderers are.  Furthermore, as this film isn’t exactly scary, the murders do add the frights, thrills, and chills that we expect a decent horror movie to deliver.  ‘Sloth’ is another one that gets me cringing every time.  Really well done.

Final critique:  Even though this movie is a little long, you don’t really notice as the enticing plot and convincing acting move you right along up to the final climactic scene.  I will reiterate how creatively twisted the murders are, and how they have left their mark on anyone who has seen this film before.  Seven comes highly recommended for all viewers but with a warning for those who react poorly to graphic or just plain sick murder content – to make you more comfortable, I won’t ruin anything but I will say that we never actually see a grisly murder, we merely experiencing the crime scene via our police protagonists.  Unlike most horrors this won’t make you afraid to leave your house or leave you worried about what’s under the bed, but it will cause you to think about the dark depths that humanity can sink to, and it might cause a few nightmares if you don’t take the creative murders well.  Great plot, fun story line, awesome film all around.