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Seven Film Review

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Autor:  anton  15 November 2010
Tags:  Review
Words: 1818   |   Pages: 8
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Se7en is a dark, grisly, horrifying and intelligent thriller. It may be too disturbing for many people. However, those that can bear to watch it will see filmmaking of a high order. It tells the story of two detectives - one ready to retire, the other at the start of his career - and their attempts to capture a perverted serial killer who is using the Se7en Deadly Sins as his modus operandi.

As the movie opens, we meet Somerset (Morgan Freeman), a scrupulous veteran cop who lives a lonely bachelor’s life in what simply looks like a furnished room. Then he meets Mills (Brad Pitt), an impulsive young cop who actually asked to be transferred into Somerset’s district. The two men investigate a particularly frightening murder, in which a fat man was tied hand and feet and forced to eat himself to death.

His crime was that of Gluttony. Soon Somerset and Mills are investigating equally imaginative murders modeled after the other deadly sins, including Sloth, Greed, and Envy. In each case, the murder method is appropriate, and disgusting (one victim is forced to cut off a pound of his own flesh; another is tied to a bed for a year; a third, too proud of her beauty, is disfigured and then offered the choice of a call for help or sleeping pills). Somerset concludes that the killer, “John Doe,” is using his crimes to preach a sermon.

The look of Se7en is crucial to its effect. This is a very dark film, the gloom often penetrated only by the flashlights of the detectives. Even when all the lights are turned on in the apartments of the victims, they cast only hopeless pools of light.

Although the time of the story is the present, the set design suggests the 1940s; Gary Wissner, the art director, goes for dark blacks and browns, deep shadows, lights of deep yellow, and a lot of dark wood furniture. It rains almost all the time, save for the final day of the film.

In this jungle of gloom, Somerset and Mills stride with growing apprehension. Somerset intuits that the killer is using books as the inspiration for his crimes, and studies Dante, Milton and Chaucer for hints. Mills settles for the Cliff Notes versions. A break in the case comes with Somerset’s sudden premonition that the killer might have a library card. But the corpses pile up, in cold fleshy detail, as disturbingly detailed as seen in a commercial film. The only glimmers of life and hope come from Tracy.

Se7en is as film noir as it gets, with certain exceptions. There is no “femme fatale” to speak of. The only antagonist is the killer himself, doing enough damage to the psyches and lives of the detectives on his own without the help of a female character. The incessant rain promotes the feeling of hopelessness for everyone involved in the action, up to and including the killer. He even brings about his own demise, ending his personal anguish and his disgust for those he is surrounded by. The crimes themselves contribute to the film noir genre and atmosphere. We know someone is going to die, just not when or where. And we see each murder in such horrific detail that we can’t help but feel sorry for the victims and fight to keep the shivers from tracing our spines.

Se7en’s makers took great leaps of faith in order to give us not what we wanted, but what we—and the genre—needed: the confrontation of our daily ethical dilemma. “The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for,” Somerset tells us in haunting voice-over.

A movie like this is all style. The material by itself could have been handled in many ways, but the director, David Fincher (“Alien 3”), goes for evocative atmosphere, and the writer, Andrew Kevin Walker, writes dialogue that for Morgan Freeman, particularly, is full of wisdom, well read and prophetic. (“Anyone who spends a significant amount of time with me,” he says, “finds me disagreeable.”) Eventually, it becomes clear that the killer’s sermon is being preached directly to the two policemen, and that in order to understand it, they may have to risk their lives and souls.

Se7en is unique in one detail of its construction; it brings the killer onscreen with half an hour to go, and gives him a speaking role. Instead of being simply the quarry in a chase, he is revealed as a twisted but eloquent antagonist, who has devised a horrifying plan for concluding his sermon. (The actor playing the killer is not identified by name in the ads or opening credits, and so his identity is left as another of his surprises.)

Se7en is well made in its details, and uncompromising in the way it presents the disturbing details of the crimes. It is certainly not for the young or the sensitive. Good as it is, it misses greatness by not quite finding the right way to end. All of the pieces are in place, all of the characters are in position, and then - the way the story ends is too easy. Satisfying, perhaps. But not worthy of what has gone before.

Fincher is a masterful director. He knows how to capture the mood of his films through camera movement and lighting. He draws you along whether you want to go or not. In the case of this film, many viewers will be peeking out from behind their hands, desperate not to see, but unable to stop themselves. Pitt and Freeman complement each other wonderfully as the detectives forced to find this killer. The pain and distress in both their eyes and demeanors is enough to break your heart. Paltrow has a small, yet essential role as Pitt’s wife. She’s good, but her acting isn’t the most shocking thing about the part. The ending is way over-the-top, but so is the entire concept of the film. It was pretty obvious if you knew what to look for. If you’re up for it, it is one of the most well-done, intelligent thrillers in a long, long time.

A character soon cuts into the choreography between Somerset and Doe: Detective David Mills. He’s the opposite of Somerset: white, for starters, and young and hyper and vulgar. He doesn’t think he’s wet behind the ears, but, despite five years working homicide in some happier town, he hasn’t outgrown TV cop lingo and the obligatory high flier approach. During an autopsy that points in all directions to murder, Mills announces to Somerset and the coroner, “Gentlemen, it looks like we’ve got ourselves a homicide.” Somerset peers at him in utter incredulity.

Mills is a genre stereotype, and for a while we fear the worst for Brad Pitt, who plays him: the part is such a walking cliché that any portrayal of it is bound to look hacked. Indeed, with minor alterations, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker could’ve transformed Se7en into a Lethal Weapon sequel, but eventually, the film undermines the conventions (the racially and ideologically mixed “buddies,” the resourceful boogeyman, impending retirement, and so on) it has painstakingly re-established for us. Just when we’re anticipating the scene in which the chief suspends the heroes for coloring outside the lines, he encourages them to stay on board the Doe case. The partnership of Mills and Somerset, too, takes honestly uncertain turns.

Remarkably, none of the reversals of expectations are a cheat.

However, Gwyneth Paltrow’s role as Tracy, Mills’ wife, is little more than a device, a shortcut to sympathy. How you feel about Tracy will probably depend on your affection for Paltrow. A key moment is where she confesses her secret pregnancy to Somerset over a greasy spoon breakfast. We can appreciate it for the chemistry between Paltrow and Freeman, and her split-second breakdown at his view that she “spoil that kid” seems giftedly unplanned.

At any rate, Se7en averts The Usual Suspects-style maneuverings, in fashion then and now, wherein the end of the piece invalidates the whole. In other words, we’re not talking about coldly premeditated “twists.” Oddly enough, when Kevin Spacey shows up at a police station in either movie he holds the key to everything that’s been puzzled over beforehand. Fincher has dedicated himself to careful rug pulling since his commercial beginnings.

Fincher is responsible for a melancholic, Rollerball-inspired Coca-Cola ad, of all things. He had the boldness to kill off Madonna in the video “Bad Girl”, and the bravado to bury a franchise with the veritable crucifixion of its recurring heroine in Alien 3. His Se7en follow-ups The Game and Fight Club present few opportunities for self-satisfaction. Se7en is a serious observation on the new lack of interest as opposed to social reject fantasy. And Se7en sacrifices a lot of the benevolence audiences seeking “entertainment” bring to it in the name of its central theme, that sin is the tie that binds us all.

The film has been called everything from “cool” to “sickening” to (amazingly), “hilarious” (though Pitt does have some magnificent comic lines, the most famous of which is probably his slaughter of the “Marquis de Sade”). Se7en-and Fincher’s-imitators have thus far been content to cunningly light and pose the forensically frightening without really challenging us to see the art within the motionlessness itself. We must appreciate its beauty in order to stay transfixed on the screen despite our fright or nausea. Sickness needs a defendable context, otherwise it’s just for the gore fiends, and Fincher provides one of persuasive procedural study here.

The movie allows us to get under its skin, to poke and prod as Mills and Somerset do, and to evaluate Doe’s motives without being asked to accept or dismiss them. Truth be told, we wind up doing a bit of both.

Se7en is a film about sacrifices, those in the name of both societal objection and martyrdom. It basically parallels two characters, a quiet police officer who’s anxiously awaiting retirement (when we meet him, he’s only got a week left on the job) and a serial killer fuelled in his achievements by a disgust for humanity, and the story closes on each of them making the ultimate oblation: John Doe, the murderer, dies in a strategically designed suicide, while Detective Somerset tells his superior on what was to be his last day of employment, “I’ll be around.” In so doing, he condemns himself to more years of confronting the worst humanity has to offer in a city on the brink of Judgment Day.

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