Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) just moved to a new city with his wife,
Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). His temporary partner is Detective William
Sommerset (Morgan Freeman), an old veteran who is retiring in seven days.
Greeting Mills is the corpse of an overweight man, found in his own home,
who was apparently forced to eat till he burst. While the police are willing
to file the murder away as just another typical homocide, Sommerset believes
this is the start of something much larger. Soon his suspicions are proven
when more corpses show up. It seems our serial killer has an affinity for
Dante and the like, and he is killing those people he believes have
committed one of the seven deadly sins. While Mills decides to pursue the
killer through traditional police methods, Sommerset researches deeply into
the seven deadly sins in an attempt to find the killer's current interests.
Yet despite both their efforts, the killer seems to always be two steps
ahead. As Sommerset points out, the killer is methodical, exacting, and
worst of all, patient.
Making a film in the serial killer sub-genre is fraught with peril. One has
only to look at failures like "The Bone Collector" and "The Cell" to see the
dangers inherent in these types of films. For every "Silence of the Lambs"
we get a dozen films like "Fallen". However, every so often, we get a movie
like David Fincher's "Se7en". This is the kind of movie that will be hated
by some for its blatant depictions of horrifying murders. Truth be told, I
can't blame people for disliking it for that reason. If you can look past
that (and I can't blame you for not being able to), you'll find that "Se7en"
is a fascinating look into the mind of a truly twisted killer. This is the
sort of plot-driven, atmospheric, suspense filled movie Hollywood only puts
out once in a great while. Fincher manages to deftly side-step every Serial
killer cliche. There's only one chase scene, but it's short and essential to
the plot; the ending doesn't come flying at you out of left field ("The Bone
Collector", anyone?); and the killer isn't just your typical nutcase. In the
film's most chilling scene, he actually presents the reasons for his crimes.
Why is this chilling? Because he presents his arguments in such a cold,
calculated, logical fashion, you'll almost find yourself buying into what
"Se7en" is a film which requires only two actors to carry the entire acting
burden on their shoulders alone. Thankfully, Fincher chose two actors who
are up to the task; one good, and one great. The good actor is, of course,
Brad Pitt. Anyone who doubts Pitt is a good actor has only to go back and
watch his performance in "12 Monkeys". In this case, Pitt is actually the
perfect choice for this role. The character of David Mills is so impetuous,
headstrong, and reckless, you can only picture an actor like Brad Pitt
playing him. On the other hand, the character of William Sommerset is one
who displays nothing but patience, intelligence, and thoughtfullness. Morgan
Freeman is the very embodiement of these three traits. To call his
performance in "Se7en" excellent should go without saying, because I've
never seen Freeman deliver anything less than a great performance. The two
actors play off each other perfectly; each antagonizing the other with
opposite character traits, without ever causing the situations to descend
into cliche and melodrama. The only other actors worth noting are Gwyneth
Paltrow ("The Talented Mr. Ripley"), who delivers a nicely understated
performance, and the man playing the serial killer, whose name I will not
mention (on the off chance you haven't heard who it is). Let's just say the
actor delivers the creepiest performance this side of Anthony Hopkins as
Hannibal Lecter. Watch for Richard Roundtree ("Shaft") in a small appearance
as the DA.
Fincher and Walker ("Sleepy Hollow") take an interesting approach to dealing
with the detectives' roles in this story. Detective Sommerset states their
parts in the film perfectly at one point: "We're picking up the pieces,
putting everything into neat little piles and filing it away on the off
chance it will ever be needed in the courtroom." This means that throughout
the film the detectives never get all that close to catching the killer.
Some people won't care for that approach, since they'll think it takes the
suspense away from the story. I have the opposite view. I think it adds
suspense because it makes the killer that much more frightening. The police
are completely at his mercy, unable to predict what he'll do next. Each
scene shows us the aftermath of the murders and how everyone reacts to them.
A word of caution - these are very powerful and disturbing scenes. If you've
got a weak stomach, steer clear of this one. Back when I saw the movie in
theaters I actually remember people running for the exits in a panic, their
hands over their mouths. You have been warned.
One thing I really have to hand Fincher is that "Se7en" is beautifully
paced. The film never feels rushed, and it never drags. When we're not
looking at the disgusting aftermath of a murder, we get scenes like the two
detectives sitting in a bar, discussing the lives of people in a big city.
Sounds boring right? Not at all. In fact, I would have liked even more
scenes like this. They never go on for very long, and with two actors like
these (one good and one great) delivering the dialogue, they're really a
treat. There's another excellent scene where we see the two conflicting
detection styles of Mills and Sommerset. While a beautiful classical piece
(Bach's suite no. 3, for those who care) plays softly in the background,
Mills sits and stares at crime scene photos all night, while Sommerset stays
in the library studying the seven deadly sins. The soundtrack, by Howard
Shore (who also scored the reprehensible "The Cell"), is perfectly low-key
and dreary for the film. "Se7ven" does run a full 123 minutes, but it's well
worth two hours of your time. I'd recommend the movie to anyone who thinks
they can handle disturbing images in favor of a truly interesting story and
give it a full, well earned five out of five stars.
Copyright © 1996 John Beachem