SEVEN is film that pushes the edge of the movie envelope. Its
artistic ancestors are probably SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and PULP FICTION,
and yet SEVEN stands alone as a totally unique cinematic experience.
Although a lot of the critics love it, there are many frightening and
gross images that may have the squeamish heading for the exits before
even the first scene is over. On the other hand, if you have a strong
stomach and you liked either of SEVEN's above putative relatives, there
is a good chance you may love this show as much as I did.
From the opening you know something unusual is unfolding in front
of you. First, the initial credits are shot with flashing images, type
going in and out of focus to strange sounding music, and cross hatch
marks on the film like this is some ancient print. Do not go complain
to the poor guy working at the snack bar, this is what the film maker
As soon as you learn to accept the bizarre credits, you realize
that the cinematography (Darius Khondji) is on the dark side of black.
You had better see this show on the big screen. Its low contrast,
black images will never transfer well to TV. The colors in it are
mainly shades of grays so that any images with primary colors really
stand out. At first I did not know what to make of the filming, but
then I realized how well the technique fit and set the mood of the
picture. Many scenes had pouring gray rain to further enhance the
dismal ambiance. In the end I decided the cinematography deserved an
Academy Award nomination. It was that innovative and involving.
Along with the camerawork, the sets by Arthur Max were
depressingly and shockingly perfect. Many of the sets were lit by 25
watt bulbs so that the detectives had to use big flashlights to inspect
the crime scene even though the room lights were on.
So what is this show about you ask? Is it just another mood piece
where the techniques are the show? Oh no, this has a well written
script (Andrew Kevin Walker) and a director (David Fincher) who is in
total control. You may or may not mind the gore, but you can certainly
respect someone who can fashion a picture with such attention to detail
and such careful planning.
The movie is about an extremely smart serial killer known only as
John Doe. He is played to perfection in a small but excellent part by
Kevin Spacey who is one of the best bad guys in the movies today. See
CONSENTING ADULTS or THE USUAL SUSPECTS for more examples of his
villainy. This serial killer is out to kill people in a recreation of
each of the seven deadly sins. The first sin we see is gluttony. Try
to imagine a horrible way to kill a guy so big he can not leave his
house. You did not guess horrible enough.
The movie uses the cliche of an old retiring cop, William
Sommerset (Morgan Freeman), breaking in a new cop, David Mills (Brad
Pitt). It does it in such fresh ways, that you do not mind you have
seen this setup a hundred times before. Much as a chess master may use
a standard opening and yet craft an entirely unique game, the writer
weaves a compelling story out of formula ingredients. Here Freeman
gives another Academy Award caliber performance as a low key but very
sure master detective. Pitt, whom I rarely like, does the best piece
of acting I have ever seen him do.
So much about this movie is outstanding in so many ways. The
music is dramatic and helps set the mood. I think the editing by
Richard Francis-Bruce deserves another award. The way he can use cuts
from slow pieces to fast ones and then quick cuts in the fast ones gets
the audience's adrenaline pumping. A good example of this is when the
police cars come flying out of the police station when the police think
they finally have the killer's location. One minute we have a
contemplative scene, and the next your heart is racing with the fast
The script has so many examples of fine writing a la PULP FICTION
that I would be happy to see an award here as well. When Detective
Mills gets frustrated trying to track down the killer through the
library, he says, "He's a nut case. Just because he has a library card
doesn't make him Yoda." When the killer muses on his place in the
scheme of things, he declares that, "If you want people to pay
attention, you can't tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to use
a sledgehammer to get their attention." Finally, Detective Sommerset
reflects that "Ernest Hemingway once wrote that 'the world is a fine
place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part." A show
is only as good as its ending. Suffice it to say that SEVEN's ending
is on par with the rest of the movie and is filled with many surprises,
large and small.
I was flabbergasted when I read that SEVEN runs 2:07. It feels
like 1:30 at most since it is so well paced. It is incorrectly rated R
for massive gore and violence. Personally, I think the MPAA should be
more generous with the NC-17 rating which is what I would give SEVEN.
It is not suitable for teenagers, but I recommend it highly to adults
who like cop shows and who like films that are willing to be out on the
fringes, and I award it *** 1/2.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes