So, a review of David Fincher’s Seven? Aren’t you like 16 years late, Alex?
You also wait for a fine wine, so why not wait for a fine review? Or for the film to become finer? Or for you – or in this case: me – to finally understand how fine the movie is? Let’s get this shit started.
Re-watching Seven there is one thing that stands out: that is one all-star cast if I’ve ever seen one. And not in the let’s-produce-a-christmas-movie-about-love-with-all-current-stars-and-wannabes sense but in the sense of actual stars, who are stars today, because this movie was a vehicle for all of them to cement their Hollywood-careers. We have Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey and one fine director named David Fincher, who I’ve talked about briefly before when discussing, of course, Alien 3 (here).
Oh, and from here on out, assuming that since it hit theatres 16 years ago you’ll probably have seen it, I’ll be spoilering majorly, so just be warned, kthanx.
This is a movie about two cops, which works very often. About two cops in a city that might or might not be New York, which works equally as often. About and oldie and a newbie who both got to come to terms with each others’ existence and their mandatory alliance, which is a story we know. It’s about a serial killer and it’s about the seven deadly sins, even more so, it is about a serial killer who is obsessed with God and of course the seven deadly sins and thus serial kills in seven deadly sins fashion, which does sound oddly familiar. And yet, all of those well known ingredients are mixed and mashed in this and bring out one stellar movie. I have a theory which states that there are four major reasons for this, and generous as I am, I’mma share that ‘lil theory with you, right here, right now.
Reason no. 1 is pretty obvious, but should nonetheless be stated: That is one good plot. The way it introduces its characters is fantastic, the way it builds up to the moment they almost capture John Doe, up to when he surrenders and up to the final reveal, which is a nasty twist, because it crushes not only Detective Mills, but also my feeble viewer’s heart, since it takes away one sympathetic character and destroys another completely. Which leads directly to reason no. 2.
Reason no. 2 is the effortlessness with which the movie produces likeable characters. There is a limited set presented here, basically just Mills (Brad Pitt), his wife Tracey (Gwyneth Paltrow) as a minor – yet plot integral – character, Morgan Freeman as Detective Somerset, their very minor character boss and last but not least serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey). The movie doesn’t give us much information about them, but it gives us enough in a way that makes them round and believable. The interpersonal conflict between the oldie Somerset and the newbie Mills, the former’s apathy and the latter’s idealism, the warm-hearted outreach by Tracy to Somerset which lays the groundwork for the bond between Mills and Somerset and finally the disgust and/or aggression that connects our two cops to Mr. Killer John Doe, all these relationships are constructed with only a few brushstrokes, artfully placed, and they become believable and relatable human behaviour.
Reason no. 3 lies IMHO in Fincher’s eye for darkness and grittiness. He tried the same for Alien 3, where he failed because he probably had too much money and too much interference. Here, he presents a film noir
New York unnamed city, complete with curious and grotesque murders, long trenchcoats, rain, blood, gore and worn out sofas and desks. Not only do I love it, but more importantly it feels all real to me. Nothing looks constructed and placed there because the movie required it to be there. It was just there, dirty and old and ignorant of the camera capturing it for the Hollywood-Blockbuster.
At this point I have to give a major shout-out to one scene in particular, or rather one concept in particular: the “murder” representing the sin sloth with the drug-dealer who lies in the bed like a corpse but IS STILL ALIVE. Gee, major super-creepness level. Like ultra major super creepy. And one heck of a powerful punch. And no, I don not want to talk about the dildo-knife. I shudder.
Leaving only reason no. 4 to elaborate on. And this one I’d say is the movie’s timelessness. Which is surprising, all the more since I started this review by pointing out that it came out 16 years ago. And I did so on purpose, because it influences the movie in a way that places it firmly in a time past: There is no New York police today working without computers and internet, there are no New York cops today who do not communicate via cell phone. These things are completely absent from the movie. Even though it was produced in a time when these things were already around, they were not around to the extent that they necessarily had to be in a movie to make it believable. However, their exclusion was most likely deliberate, and is one of the reasons why the movie feels relatively timeless. It feels like a tale that could have been set in the 1950s as well as today, the end of 2011. It helps to some extent in focusing the story on what I’ve commented on before, the plot, the characters, their interaction. But it also speaks volumes about who I am, what time I come from and how I relate to this movie. There are generations of viewers now who do not know a world without cell phones or internet and to them this might seem extremely odd and out of place while for me this still represents a totally relatable concept and context. I grew up during the second half of the 80s and the entire 90s. I’ve seen the beginnings of it but I also remember how people considered these things as new and something one had to get used to. Therefore, I wonder: how “timeless” is the movie for someone born in 1994? What do you think?
Yup, time to re-watch Seven.