Wednesday, September 12, 2012

“SE7EN” 1995 (Dir: David Fincher)

I didn't get it.

What I remember:

Dark. Dark darkness darkly dimming dusk peeking into gloomy rain-soaked edifices growing moldy with peeling paint and rot.

This is what I remember from David Fincher’s second feature film. To say that “Se7en” has a mood, would be like saying that “Dumb and Dumber” was silly. Fincher, I felt, tried just so damn hard to announce himself as an auteur with this movie. His intent was to go past the typical police procedural/serial killer genre. His intent, I believe, was to make something that would have the art of Fritz Lang’s “M”, with the power and horror of Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs”.
The truth is, he wasn’t ready yet. He did that a few years later with what I feel is one of the finest of this genre, “Zodiac”. “Zodiac” has everything “Se7en” did not—starting with a believable story. Maybe because it’s a TRUE story.
“Se7en” seems like an impossible tale because it IS impossible. Starting with the level of difficulty of pulling off these murders in the manner they were accomplished; details are lacking in my memory, but I recall thinking that this killer would have to be awake 24-7, and in 49 places at once for 10 years to pull off these elaborate schemes. The other items that are hard to get around are the disparate intelligence levels of the two lead characters. There’s no way a lifelong detective in a city police force is as highly educated and intelligent as Morgan Freeman’s Lt. Somerset, or that Brad Pitt’s Det. Mills could be such a total blockhead. Somerset comes off as a Harvard literature professor taking a sabbatical. Mills resembles a WWF bad guy wrestler.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the audience gave “Se7en” 87% approval, as opposed to a “Zodiac” rating of 73%. Critics saw it a bit more my way, but still had this film rated way higher than the score I would give it. Let’s see if a subsequent viewing makes me change my mind.

After re-watching:

“You're no messiah. You're a movie of the week. You're a fucking t-shirt, at best.” Det. David Mills


Young Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) and his wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) have just moved to the big city so that David can become a Homicide Detective. He is partnered with erudite Lieutenant William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), and the two bump heads more than a few times. Somerset is about to retire, when a serial killer case develops. It’s clear that the killer is murdering people who each represent one of the seven deadly sins. As the case unfolds, it becomes clear that this killer is in much more control than the police.


Spoiler alert---you must understand that this whole undertaking is rotten with spoilers, but if you haven’t seen “Se7en”, then please stop reading this until you have.

Before I even discuss my feelings about this film, can we just go over one very important item that bugs the hell out of me? Thanks.

OK, so there are 7 deadly sins. He kills the fat guy- Gluttony. He kills the lawyer-Greed. He kills the hooker- Lust. He kills the model-Pride. He kills the junky- Sloth. What’s left?

According to my sources, Wrath and Envy. The last two victims are Tracy and the killer himself, John Doe (Kevin Spacey). Which is which? Wait, so when Mills kills Doe, that’s Wrath. And Doe makes a big deal about how envious he is of Mills and his beautiful wife. Envy. If you think about it for more than a second, it makes zero sense. Shouldn’t the people who are envious or wrathful be punished and killed? Then that means that Doe is a sinner? But I thought he was the right hand of God, smiting the sinners. That makes him wrathful. But Mills kills him in wrath. Now you say, but the man is insane, so of course it makes no sense. I retort, he is way too methodical to be sloppy about who and what represents these sins. The slop, my friends, is in the script and plot.  

The last line of dialogue in the film is Somerset’s voiceover (wow-Morgan Freeman doing a voiceover? Go figure.) quoting Hemingway:
“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for”. Then Somerset says, “I agree with the second part”.

This is our theme, friends. The world is a vile cesspool. But don’t give up! We hope you enjoyed your movie. Now go home, get a good night’s sleep (if you can) and get back to work in your dreary puddle of shit. Try not to get murdered or dismembered on your way home.

I recently saw the film “Shame”, which I immediately labeled “The Worst Date Movie EVER”. “Se7en” is a damn close 2nd.


A friend of mine used to call pitcher Ryan Dempster “Bipolar Boy” because he would be so inconsistent from start to start. That is how I feel about David Fincher. He can give you near masterpieces like “The Social Network”, “Zodiac” and “Fight Game”, and then you get a mess like “Benjamin Button” or “Alien3”. I think this film is a mess, too.

One of the things that makes a chilling horror film so effective is that feeling that it is really happening. Why do “Psycho” and “The Birds” freak us out so thoroughly? Hitchcock leads you to believe that everything is perfectly plausible, and there, but for the grace of God, goes you.

Yes I understand that Fincher was going for a modern day chiaroscuro effect, where things are hidden and poorly lit. Done in the right amount, this is very gothic and can give the audience just enough of a sense of uneasiness. The extent to which it’s done in “Se7en”, sad to say, is absurd. I mean, the Public Library looks like some kind of dimly lit sex club. Not that I’ve ever been to one, but I’ve seen them on the news. The police station looks like one of those old banks that they’ve turned into a chic restaurant, with marble staircases and columns all lit artfully.

Then there’s the rain—where is this supposed to take place, anyway? Tracy at one point says they moved from upstate. Well it’s New York then, right? Where else is that a term? And it rains all the damn time. Maybe it’s Seattle. Nope, no hills. At the end, they drive to a desert, obviously California somewhere.
Back to the rain; at one point it is pouring outside, but when they go into a building to investigate a murder, the sun is streaming in from the outside windows. Come on! Sloppy is as sloppy does. Or Sloppy John Does.

I will admit that the first time I saw it, the end was both shocking and powerful. Kind of like the twist in “The Sixth Sense”. It made up for a lot of what bugged me in the movie. But just think how powerful and shocking it could have been, had they taken the care to make this a truly credible and slightly more realistic film.


I’m not going to say that Fincher is the modern day Hitchcock, in that he views his actors as cattle. Truth be told, the acting is somewhat secondary in his films, although there were a few standout performances sprinkled throughout. I loved Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson in “Button”, and John Carroll Lynch in “Zodiac” was unforgettable.

Brad Pitt seems to be finding his way as an actor, finally. “Moneyball” was a breakthrough performance, and I am hoping there will be more to come. For me, the early roles are just without subtlety and depth. It’s a hole in the middle of “Benjamin Button”, and a huge problem in “Se7en”. His role model here seems to have been Mel Gibson’s performances in the “Lethal Weapon” series. Bluster and frustration are combined, but there is little intelligence and humor.

Morgan Freeman is universally beloved, and as hard as it is to believe his character, he gives it the old college try. His scene with Gwyneth is solid, and his reactions during the film’s climax are convincing. It’s nowhere near the level of his parts for Clint Eastwood, or even his supporting turn in “Shawshank Redemption”. Gwyneth herself has very little to work with, but she is lovely to look at, of course.

It’s worth mentioning Kevin Spacey’s creepy John Doe, since it is obviously the template for Verbal Kint in “The Usual Suspects”. Slightly effeminate, and quite subdued, he uses this singsong voice pattern, and there is just enough of a sense of superciliousness that makes it work. A touch of crazy inches in near the end of his big scene in the squad car, and he handles it well.


I do have a list of “one-timers”, movies that I liked but never really want to see again, because they were tough to watch.
“Midnight Express”, “Shame”, “Jesus’ Son”, and “Requiem for a Dream” all are on this list. So was “Se7en”, but for the blog I will do anything!!

This is not a film you want to revisit. It is a thoroughly uncomfortable experience, like recalling a terrible error in judgement that you made years ago. You know it will be interesting to go there, but you can’t change it, and it will make you a bit sick to your stomach. It’s a one-timer, and I am sorry I didn’t keep it that way.

On First Look: 1/2   On Second Look:

No comments:

Post a Comment