Se7en (1995)

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Director: David Fincher
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt . USA. 2h 6m

Only one year after The Crow (1994) darkened cinema screens with a midnight gothic punk industrial wild decent into grief, loss and revenge, David Fincher hit back and an equally hard hitting film which was often likened to the Crow in the early headlines as popular cinema tried to refocus on what was happening, somehow subvergent underground ideas from comics and madmen were becoming popular and adjustments had to be made. These dark worlds filled with grimy stress, rain and a heavy oppressive atmosphere often mimic the inner depression and rage of one or more of their characters. Eric Draven’s depression at losing the love of his life is mimicked by the dark night and rain, his tears, but what is creating the dark dirty polluted rain filled world within Fincher’s, unnamed metropolis it’s certainly not from lost love.

Fincher’s intro alone captured an aesthetic that has been mimicked and obsessed over, we see the hands of a deranged individual, cut and bleeding, making a cup of tea and binding his own journals, pages on pages of lyrical writing about sin, political deception and the darkness recesses of humanity all highlighted with graphical pictures of mutated and mutilated bodies, ancient etchings, photographs and slides, it’s chilling gore and set to a Coil remix of Nine Inch Nails song Closer, it’s art and we need more of this, there was a cheeky homage to this in the Alone in the dark The New Nightmare game.. a testament to how much of a creative fire this film lit under the asses of anyone with some dark creativity in them.

I’m going to pause here a moment to talk about how much I totally fan girl this movie and won’t head a bad word about it, for me it’s perfection and my track record of re watching it is quite high around 50 time a year, and it’s been about for 25 years, so that’s over a 1000 watches plus I’ve read the book and a range of comics etc etc.. it really got under my skin but I’m going to try and keep this short and professional..

David Mills (Pitt) is a young and over ambitious cop who busted his ass to play with the big boys in the most violent areas of policing, he’s paired up with William Somerset (Freeman) a slow paced, deep thinking, methodical character who’s tired ass is still dedicated but he’s very much seen it all and ready to retire, it seems the powers that be assume this police sorcerer will snap this little apprentice into shape however he has to combat Mill’s hot temper first.

After a lot of angst-banter between the men, working different, thinking different, it’s Somerset who does some homework at the library and realsies their apparent separate cases might all have one suspect, a John Doe who has an affiliation with the Seven Deadly Sins and using these vices against the sinner, so the odd couple have minimal time to catch him before his completes his magnum opus.

What really completes this epic masterpiece is the mood of the movie, something which redefined “gritty police drama”, there’s a magic in rain drenched somber visuals, the down tempo depression what follows all the characters through the movie is maxed out by some detailed work from French – Iranian cinematographer Darius Khondji who worked on a number of Jean-Pierre Juenet features such as City of Lost Children and Delicatessen. He applied a distinct technique to enhance the darkness accentuating it through a chemical process applied to the film stock, in which the silver wasn’t removed which deepens the shadows and helped set the unique visual tone.

“Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” John Doe

Somehow Fincher manages to capture his audience and convince us of gut wrenching gruesomely disgusting murders without showing a single one, Se7e is famed for its vastly disturbing nature and violence and yet we only see the aftermath of the crimes and that really is enough. The tension grows between each crime scene, but the scenes themselves are like renaissance works of art, with an overall gloomy nature, there’s a vivid look into the gore relating to each murder, often highlighting the freaky brutal nature of the killer conducting the religiously motivated tortuous killings. They are usually in run down murky apartments, inflicted on people who seemingly innocent in the eyes of many are very guilty according to this mystery killer who’s exacting olde christian sermons on the fairly oblivious modern public.

Brad Pitt managed to really affirm that he’s not just a pretty face in Hollywood, breathing life into his optimistic character who really does believe that he can make a difference, the role of Somerset was turned down by some big names, Al Pacino and Denzel Washington both found the movie too “dark” for them, but I think the perfect match was found and you can see that Fincher was excited with his cast, bringing out the connection between the men on screen as Somerset has to babysit Mills he slowly comes to respect the young man’s determination and their friendship slowly blooms, especially after both men begin to exorcise their demons and admit their wrongs, it seems there’s a lot of redemption to be had in this city.

The films edge is that the killer is a mastermind, someone who’s slippery, and slowly is aware of the law enforcers who are trying to track him and he begins to toy with them, in one particularly thrilling scene the movie jumps from sleuthing to full on handy camera action flick as Mills chases a suspect through the city streets and finds himself almost gunned down in an alley. John Doe is indeed formidable, a perfect Moriaty both mentally and physically. He’s a very novel character, relying on religious doctrine to guide his anger at humanity and to guide his focused determination to highlight his mission. But who is honestly free of all the 7 sins in this day and age and when did we stop considering them a danger?

With a phenomenal set of great actors and superb vision from Fincher who fell in love with film making while working on this juicy item the end result was something which made audiences sit up with attention. It’s a real marvel of cinema, a slightly gimmicky story is reformed into a really involved drama that digs into under the skin. From it’s Joel Witkins stylized intro until “that” ending Se7en grips old of it’s audience and uses that sledgehammer that John Doe mentioned to get their attention, and yet we want more. Luckily Fincher does it all again in slightly different but equally engaging ways with Zodiac (2007)and Mindhunter (2017- )which all stand on the shoulders of this giant.

Rating: 10/10

Related: Anamorph (2007), Zodiac (2007), Mindhunter (2017- )
Lists: My top 30 Movies of all time, Dark Brooding Cinema Vol 1
Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt
Article: How Se7en Changed everything
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