Seven (1995)

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It’s hard to believe that this film is nearly twenty years old and I only saw it for the first time last year. Granted, I’m only 22 years old. But still. It’s such a good film, I don’t know how I managed so long without seeing it or hardly even hearing about it. I guess it was actually a bit of a blessing though as I managed to go into the film without having any knowledge of what happens in the end. Since last year I’ve watched Seven (or is it Se7en?) 5 times because it is so brilliant and the best David Fincher film I’ve ever seen.

Soul shattering heart break.
Soul shattering heart break.

This is the film that really launched Brad’s dramatic career. This film shows that Brad is more than a pretty face. The boy can act. More than that he can keep up with Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, two of the all-time greats. Detective Mills (Brad) is likeable in a young, innocent, naïve way. Brad is great sauntering around, cocky and asking too many questions. His evolution over the course of the film is believable and organic. You can really see Mills becoming more and more like Somerset (Morgan Freeman) especially by the end of the film. As great as Brad is, you can tell that this is one of his first major roles. He doesn’t have too much practical experience, much like Mills. He isn’t an amazing actor, I think he just happens to have a lot of similarities with Mills. He fits the role, he’s just being more like himself most of the time than acting. At least that’s the impression I got. So Brad is good, but one of the weaker points of the film.

Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt).
Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt).

Morgan Freeman as Detective Somerset is the emotional anchor of the film. He is the real protagonist although he doesn’t have as dramatic an arc as Mills. This is my favorite Morgan Freeman role. Sometimes Morgan just walks into a film and says “I’m God,” takes his cheque, and leaves. He doesn’t have to do much because duh, he’s Morgan Freeman. His voice simply makes things dramatic. But in Seven he really has fully realized this character and seems to have fun playing the part. His acting is a huge part of what makes the final scene so intense. Just the way he looks at that box… I especially love how he says “I’ll be around” at the very end. You can hear the emotion in his voice as he resigns himself to continuing to work in such a cruel world.

Acting doesn't get any better than Kevin Spacey as John Doe.
Acting doesn’t get any better than Kevin Spacey as John Doe.

It’s the combination of Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey that make this film truly amazing. Sometimes the first half or so of the movie kind of drags for me. They don’t know who the killer is and they just keep investigating one killing after another. But once Kevin walks into the police building calling “Detective” suddenly things get incredibly exciting. When you see how well Kevin inhabits the role of John Doe it’s hard to believe he was hired just days before shooting began. I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Even the way John dunks his tea bag is riveting! 1995 was truly his year as The Usual Suspects also came out. He is one of the greats, just remarkable in everything that he does. And he brings a kind of dark humor to John Doe as well. But he is just so horrifying, especially as he so casually tells Mills what he did to his wife. John Doe is so calm, it’s eerily magnetic. Kevin as John Doe has had a huge impact on movies that can still be seen today. Part of the Joker as depicted in The Dark Knight is a total rip off of him (as great as Heath Ledger is).

Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Mills (Brad Pitt).
Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Mills (Brad Pitt).

Gwyneth Paltrow is also surprisingly good and pleasant. I’m not a huge fan of hers, I think her off-screen persona has become very alienating. It’s hard to distinguish her from her characters these days, she’s lost some of her believability. But in Seven she is fresh and young and perfect as Mills’s wife, Tracy. She is the true innocent in the film, guilty of no sin that I can see. Her scenes with Mills and Somerset over dinner and again with Somerset in the diner are crucial to the success of the film. Anyone less attractive or kind would have diminished the film and the impact of the final act. But you truly feel sorry for her and her depression and she is also funny. Her loss seems to hurt the audience and Somerset almost as much as it hurts Mills. The ending would mean nothing if the audience did not care for her so much. Gwyn’s performance is powerful in a quiet way.
David Fincher has done truly incredible work with this film. I don’t know if he can ever top it. Everything just comes together to create the perfect image and story. The set design is dark and gritty. You can really understand why Tracy hates living there so much. It’s depressing. The opening credits are also incredible. Creepy. Disturbing. They seem like something John Doe himself put together. I really appreciate the attention to detail, which David is quite famous for. Sometime it can make all the difference and that is definitely true of Seven.
What struck me the most this viewing was the amazing cinematography and directing. I don’t know why I never paid closer attention before. Maybe it’s because I just watched this fascinating video a little while ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPAloq5MCUA
The shots that David chose and the way things are framed… it elevates the story telling so much. You can see that this is a true master at work. If you had asked me before this viewing what I thought of hand held cameras I would have said “Ugh, I hate them. They’re distracting and sloppy.” But when I watched Seven this time I realized that when used at the right time, a hand held camera can generate a lot of excitement. The audience feels they too are participating in the chase. Part of the John Doe chase utilizes this as well as when Somerset runs to Mills after the box discovery. And speaking of the box. The way it is treated and framed in the shot. It lends it so much weight that it feels like its own character before the audience has any idea what’s inside of it. I also really enjoyed the framing used when John Doe and Mills are talking in the car. It could have been shot quite plainly with just shots of John’s face. But instead we see John reflected in the rear view mirror (Somerset’s view) or through the cage screen (Mills’s view). It makes a simple conversation incredibly interesting and literally puts the audience in the places of Mills and Somerset.
Seven is exceptional film making. I have minor problems with the pacing and Brad’s acting. But as I said, that is minor. David Fincher has delivered the ultimate crime thriller. It has emotion, action, horror, surprises, basically everything a viewer could ask for. I can’t stress enough the emotional impact of Seven. It will haunt you. I still get a thrill out of it after multiple viewings. Seven is a true work of art. 9/10

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