David Fincher’s dark, gruesome and intelligent thriller Se7en remains one of my favorite films of the 1990s. It’s dark visual tone and use of pathetic fallacy coupled with the harrowing story of a killer attempting to teach humanity a lesson is both disturbing and brilliant. Fincher shows audiences his true capabilities as a director, and Se7en is an exercise in storytelling, visual style, and suspense, making it one of the definitive crime thrillers of the 20th century.
The film begins in a miserable and unidentified cityscape, perhaps Los Angeles, or New York. Perhaps it is simply a metaphorical version of all the crime in American urban areas. This city seems – for at least the one week the movie takes place in – perpetually covered in fog and light rain. We are introduced to Detective Mills (Brad Pitt), a young and impulsive cop who was transferred to the city. He is paired with Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), an older, calmer, meticulous veteran to the force with one week left before retirement. The contrasting pair make a nice centrepiece for the havoc which is to be wrecked upon them by an unknown murder.
Their first case together is the supposed murder of an obese man, found bound to a chair, he was forced at gunpoint to eat himself to death. His crime was gluttony. There are six more deadly sins, all of which the meticulous, patient, and above all disturbed, serial killer plans to use as his MO. They are: greed, sloth, lust, pride, wrath, and envy. Somerset, who has a keen insight into the mind of the killer, asks to be taken off the case but remains in contact with Mills as he reads through Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”, and other prose relating to the seven deadly sins. Together the pair of detectives get closer to the murderer, eventually ending in a climax which is brilliantly scripted by Andrew Kevin Walker.
Brad Pitt gives a strong performance as Mills, the younger cop who loses his temper more frequently, but still believes he can make a difference. I wouldn’t have liked anyone else to play the role, but I could see a handful of other actors also embodying Mills. Somerset, on the other hand, could not logically be played by anyone but Morgan Freeman. Freeman’s calm deep voice, and his presence on-screen is unavoidable. His character more questioning of the supposed good nature of humanity, yet still devoted to catching the killer. He is intellectual, he reads Milton and Dante and Chaucer for clues to the murders, and he thinks before he acts, unlike Detective Mills. This difference in character serves as an essential plot point later in the film.
David Fincher has become internationally successful as a maker of both highly stylish thrillers (e.g. Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and more sweeping dramatic films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network. Se7en was Fincher’s first real venture into the crime-thriller genre, and it stands as one of his best works. The director is certainly unafraid of being uncompromising and violent, and he shows a strong understanding of visual style and artistic expression. Many shots in this film are incredibly memorable, being just a part of what makes Se7en such an unavoidable film.