Director: David Fincher
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow
I was first introduced to David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ when I was about 14. To me, even at that age, I thought the film looked like an over the top horror film, with little to offer in terms of originality. The opening credits did little to persuade me; it looked like the start to a ‘Saw’ movie. In reality, what I found, even at this relatively young age, was an intense, gruesome, wholly atmospheric masterpiece that ranks amongst the greatest films ever made.
The story sees Brad Pitt’s character, Detective Mills, move into an ominously unnamed American city, conveniently at the time that a gruesome murder occurs. Alongside Morgan Freeman’s Detective Somerset, the unlikely duo embark on a hunt for a ruthless, unforgiving and calculating serial killer, as their own lives and morals are brought into question.
The performances on offer here are terrific, with Brad Pitt, who at the time was more a model than an actor, proving that he is one of the most charismatic screen performers out there. You’d be forgiven for thinking Brad Pitt is just a face, but with performances like this, and in features such as Fincher’s other masterpiece ‘Fight Club’, Pitt is actually one of the most versatile actors working in Hollywood. But it is Morgan Freeman who steals the show. Not long after his success in Frank Darabont’s classic ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, Freeman turns in another effortless, commanding performance. When people say that a particular actor has “graced the screen” it never really rings true. Yet in ‘Se7en’ I can think of no better phrase to describe Freeman’s performance. He provides levity in a film that is unbelievably gruesome and incredibly hard to watch in terms of graphic content.
Freeman and Pitt’s characters are two sides of the same coin; they are living at opposite ends of each other’s life. Somerset regularly tells anecdotes of what he used to be like before the world made him weary. Mills is an arrogant and naive cop who only has eyes for the top. There is a sense of narrative inevitability to these characters, with one trying to leave the misery of working and living the detective life and the other desperately trying to break into it. With multiple viewings, the story becomes even more tragic, knowing full well how it all will end.
Honourable mentions also go to Gwyneth Paltrow who does a great job with a role that, in all honesty, is rather unsubstantial. The unnamed city too, is another character in itself; constant rain and a gloomy and oppressive atmosphere produce a chilling backdrop to a horrific story. The film is as much about this city in general as it is about the murder spree. That said, the role of the serial killer at the heart of it all is performed to absolute perfection in this film. The performance is so unnerving and convincing that it will send a chill down your spine. However, their identity will have to remain a mystery here in case any of you haven’t seen it, as I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.
Fincher also deserves credit for creating an atmosphere so full of tension you will spend the entire 127 minutes gritting your teeth as a result of the effect it has on your person. I often can’t wait to see movies of a similar ilk and yet on the whole, I am always left disappointed. Only Fincher’s other works, like the underrated ‘Zodiac’, can compete with this masterfully crafted thriller. If Hitchcock was possessed by Satan himself, he could not even dream of creating something as perversely brilliant as ‘Se7en’. You will love this film the first time round, but what will make you keep coming back to it is the profound moral ambiguity on show. In the words of the murderer himself, “only in a world this shitty can you call these people innocent”. It is a goose-bump inducing line that really raises the question: Are we really all innocent? Of course we aren’t, and Fincher does a masterful job at making the audience realise that the only separation between the ordinary and the insane is perspective. In this day and age, is this not a profound and timeless theme?
‘Se7en’ is a film I would personally describe as being close to faultless; it is a film only let down by some unintentionally hilarious gurning by Pitt in the closing stages of the film. But it cannot be disputed that Fincher has created a superb thriller that will stand the test of time. This isn’t just one of the best thrillers ever made. It is simply one of the best films ever made.