Two detectives, Mills (Pitt) and Somerset (Freeman), race against time to thwart the attempts of a serial killer, who chooses his victims according to the seven deadly sins.
Greed, sloth, envy, pride, wrath, gluttony, and lust are just some of the highlights the viewer will be exposed to in this bleak, unrelenting, neo-noir nightmare of a film. This film wallows in the excessive impurity of a world gone astray. It is not a happy film; in fact, there is not even a happy ending. Instead, for two hours, the viewer will be witness to the very atrocities and vile indecencies this world is capable of.
This film is dark; oh boy, is it ever. It is an unsettling depiction of a world that is out of control. In fact, at one point in the film, Somerset notes that he no longer understands this world, and later on when asked how long he has lived in the city, he wearily replies: “too long”. This world has gotten the better of Somerset. He is retiring in seven days, but that will not allow him to forget about the evils he has encountered during his time in this urban hell of a city (that is never named during the length of the film).
When the character of Mills arrives on the scene, Pitt plays him as idealistic and ambitious, but yet naïve. In fact, he comes across as cocky and rude in some instances. The two characters of Somerset and Mills are polar opposites of one another. One a father figure, in a sense, attempting to shield the other from the evils he has encountered. In fact, in one instance, Somerset mentions to the chief of police that he does not believe that this should be Mills’ first assignment. Mills sees it as an insult, whereas Somerset understands that Mills is not psychologically ready for what he is about to encounter. It is an old fashioned case of experience and weariness versus ambition and innocence.
This is not a violent film but yet it seldom lets the viewer off easy. Gruesome and graphic, the film can be read as a statement on modern day angst and loss of place and understanding in an ever changing world. People want to escape this city but yet no one seems willing enough to leave it. Is it because this film is attempting to state that no matter where one goes, one will always be subjected to this type of visual and mental anguish? In other words, everywhere in the world is reminiscent of this city. There is no escape.
David Fincher and his director of photography, Darius Khondji, paint a miraculous picture of a world darkened by the evil that lives within the realms of the human soul. Through low contrast lighting, silver colored rain during a rain storm, and the removal of any form of key lighting, they are able to achieve the idea that this city is dead. The city is devoid of any kind of primary color to help bring life to it. It is only in the last twenty minutes that the audience witnesses a sunny day, but that is viewed from outside of the city (on the way to the stunning and unbelievable climatic moment the film has been building towards throughout). The use of lighting is extremely atmospheric and, in a sense, helps to establish the city as another key character in the film. The city is alive, but yet is slowly decaying from within.
One cannot conclude the review without mentioning one of the most vile and despicable (yet intellectual) serial killers in film history. John Doe is methodical and patient. He does not kill on emotion, but rather feels that he is a messenger summoned to destroy the wicked. He is evil, but yet the great actor that portrays him (his name will not be mentioned in case anyone has not seen the film) creates a character that is just that, a true character. In others hands, John Doe would have come off as merely a one note serial killer. But yet, Doe is given tremendous depth and development. This is in large part due to the script (he is one of the better written killers in recent memory), but it is truly brought to life through the actions and mannerisms of this actor.
This film is not for the squeamish but yet if one wants to witness acting at its finest (actually, there is one key moment at the end involving Mills that just does not seem to work), a script that is taut and tense throughout, and assured direction, then one should do themselves the favor of watching this film. As was noted earlier, this is in no way a happy film, and there is very little action (it focuses more on the investigation side of it all), but yet it is never boring. The characters are smart and they act and speak in accordance to who they truly are as human beings. Everyone has a point and they are allowed to share that point within the film. They say what they feel in an honest manner. They believe in their words and actions, and that is what makes them reliable characters. The audience truly believes that these characters are who they say they are.
Fincher’s Se7en is a modern day masterpiece. It is dark and unrelenting but it whole heartedly embraces the darkness it presents. It is also a film that helped to regenerate interest in the serial killer genre once again, and led to the release of other, less than satisfactory films (exploiting the success of Se7en), like Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider.
As has been said, this film is an unnerving adventure and strives to delve deep into the realms of one of the vilest criminals in film history. Yes, it is sometimes difficult to watch but yet it is impossible to turn away. That is the definition of brilliant filmmaking.