NEW LINE CINEMA (1995)
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey
Seven is a visual movie that follows its story – it’s dark, it’s downbeat, there’s no glamour here and there shouldn’t be either. An intelligent, psychotic serial killer is on the loose and is using the seven deadly sins as a cover for his murders and it’s up to the grizzled retiring cop and the new upstart to solve this. By portraying the bleak world that he does, Fincher lures us in and creates a tense, dread filled atmosphere. The city where all this happens is never named and it’s raining all the time (really raining), everything is swathed in grey and black and when it’s dark - it’s dark. All of this together creates a bleak dystopia without feeling like it’s forced and unrealistic. The only time the screen is illuminated and lit is the film’s chilling finale.
Fincher wanted to channel William Friedkin and The Exorcist, and he did that by creating the dread via nothing but darkness, decay and an overwhelming sense of unease. The ending of Seven alone pushes the movie up close to the levels created by Friedkin.
The death scenes in the film are all cleverly explained, and the motives/logic of the detectives is never far out, it’s methodical and, again, clearly explained. As the movie unfolds, it never seems as if the detectives are getting as close as they need to be – which is a great positive for the movie, as it doesn’t simply have the moustache twirling villain who is eventually easily outwitted, this is a proper chess match where the villain is always one step ahead. Another positive is that for the most part, the gorier details are explained rather than shown, and when they are seen, they aren’t lingered over for shock value (the ‘sloth’ victim is probably the most graphic shown)
The two stars are an incredible double act, and work perfectly together I believe. The acting styles of Pitt and Freeman complement each other as much as their characters are total opposites. What could have fallen into an awfully clichéd double act comes out as one of the better on screen partnerships you’ll see.
Morgan Freeman produces one of his greatest performances here as the beaten down, wise yet weary Somerset. The authority he exudes is natural and his face says it all throughout – haunted eyes and a solemn expression are carried everywhere. His intelligence is never insulting, he isn’t a super sleuth; he has seen enough and spent his time researching the bigger world to be able to pick out clues others may not see. In tandem, he carries the movie perfectly and is a tragic ray of hope.
Brad Pitt is equally as engaging – the hotheaded young detective eager to prove himself and show he’s got what it takes to get to the top. His petulance and arrogance are brilliantly put across, as is his lack of real world experience, Pitt is great. The manner in which he handles his character’s arc is just what was required, and he handles the crushing finale excellently.
Kevin Spacey is chilling as John Doe, simply put. He exudes no emotion, only cracking to exclaim how he will be remembered, and to scold Pitt’s character for questioning his ideology. His cold portrayal is memorable and terrifying due to the fact that he believes he isn’t doing wrong – that he’s the good guy in this. In lesser hands, this could have been a huge anti-climax, but not here. It’s in the best hands.
What makes this film even bleaker, and also raises it to brilliant levels, is the devastating ending (which obviously won’t be divulged here). The setup is the movie itself, and the punch to the gut it delivers is almost unbelievable. Brilliantly written, acted and shot, it’s an incredible ending to the movie. It sets up the feeling of dread, and increases it slowly, even allowing the viewer to be lulled into a false sense of direction before the revelation is revealed.
Powerful, gritty, haunting, grisly, dark, depressing, brilliant - Seven is a magnificent achievement.
October 26th 2016