Movie Review: Se7en
Rating: 3 and 1/2 Stars
I sit here idly in a daze at my foldable table with scrambled thoughts. Watching Se7en, a movie that came out the year I was born, now over 23 years old, can have that effect.
There’s a lot to unpack. The film stars a young Brad Pitt, an ageless Morgan Freeman, and this film would not be complete without an appearance from a beleaguered Kevin Spacey. Se7en is directed by David Fincher, whose career speaks for itself. Fincher has directed Fight Club, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, oh, and Gone Girl. I can personally vouch for Gone Girl, The Social Network, and Benjamin Button, and the rest are films I plan on seeing in my lifetime as their reputation precedes them. As good as all of the Fincher films I’ve seen are, I dare say they don’t reach the level of excellence, style, and craft that is seen in Se7en.
Speaking of reputation, I would be lying if I wasn’t considering the damaged public personas of Spacey and Freeman. The fact of the matter is, when assessing their past roles, it’s undeniable that they are incredible actors. How we assess disgraced actors or directors, among others, will be a conundrum among reviewers for some time to come.
But as constructed, Se7en has three phenomenal actors paired with a phenom director. Se7en is about a serial killer leading two detectives on a chase through his homicides meant to represent the seven deadly sins. The two detectives are Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman). The same morbid curiosity the viewer has about each of the killer’s victims is shared within Mills and Somerset. There’s a stark difference to how Mills and Somerset approach each crime scene, as we are also investigating the jubilation of young Mills and the inquisitiveness of old Somerset.
The pacing of the film is critical to how it melds the viewer's emotions. There’s a gripping suspense that’s palpable at the outset. Crime novels and detective films merit this suspense, and the best ones raise that tension to a crescendo.
Somerset is a seasoned grizzled detective with one foot out the door, burned out by a world that he believes is more corrupt by the day. Mills is spritely and ambitious. He’s driven by his fiery temper and adolescent assumptions. We expect the two to clash, but we are aware they will need each other later. Fincher takes proper time in establishing Mills and Somerset, letting his unquestionable stars own the screen and breathe life into every scene. This is the formula for a buddy cop flick, but Pitt and Freeman remain pure to the script and committed their characters.
Se7en is not a film for the faint of heart. Nor is it for the full of heart. It’s hard to say whom the film is for, though on almost all technical aspects it is a masterpiece. The hardest part of the film to judge is its impact. The feeling you leave with after you finish watching.
I recall how deflating I found the end of Avengers: Infinity War to be. I found my final destination in Se7en to be deflating, but in a different manner, because I was still bewildered by the journey. Se7en is what the first Saw film would be if it focused more on developing its characters. Se7en also isn’t interested in the notion of a twist ending, and there is ample opportunity to exercise that trope. Se7en stays committed to its story, and to the detectives that carried the burden of the experience. Is this the best told serial killer story? Probably not. Is it a damn sure effective one? Absolutely. As gritty as Se7en is, there are moments where the film feels notably sensationalist rather than submerged in a real world. This is necessary for Hollywood to be what it is. If Hanks played an autobiographical version of Sully or Captain Phillips, we’d be asleep.
Kevin Spacey as the unidentifiable serial killer who goes by, John Doe, is one rung below Hopkins’ Hannibal from Silence of the Lambs. Spacey also played Verbal in The Usual Suspects in 1995 which he won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. A deserved nod, no doubt. Is there an argument that his role in Se7en was equally deserving or merited a double nomination? I wouldn’t be opposed. Spacey’s role as Doe was crucial to the film’s signature climax sequence. Neither Pitt or Freeman getting nominations for best actor that year is also suspect. Pitt had the scene-stealing scene, but Freeman had the more formidably challenging character to portray throughout the film.
Fincher’s greatest accomplishment with Se7en is balancing out a suspenseful investigation juxtaposed with the story of two uncompromising detectives who are as similar as they are different. Fincher puts the audience in a position where we have to look within ourselves, and to observe the world around us, questioning whose perspective do we find more value in? Detective Mills? Detective Somerset? Or is the real balance somewhere in between? A credit to Fincher and his film, he doesn’t make the answer easy.
So if almost all the critical aspects of the film, ranging from the acting to the writing to the cinematography, sound design, editing, and beyond was amazing, why do I hesitate to give Se7en a perfect rating? Part of me thinks I’m crazy not to (this is a 4-star film if you really love movies), but my defiance stands true. It’s not the type of movie I imagine wanting to see again. As harrowing as watching the movie is, I’m not sure what feeling I’m supposed to leave with. As I said, I was left scrambled, trying to decipher how I should feel, which is fine. For Se7en to transcend its impact with me, I needed one more moment of brilliance before the credits roll.