Sep 12, 2007

Movie Review: "Seven" (1995)

A Film Review by James Berardinelli 3 stars
United States, 1995
U.S. Release Date: 9/22/95 (wide)
Running Length: 2:03
MPAA Classification: R (Gory crime scenes, violence, profanity)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Cast: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. McGinley, Richard Roundtree, Kevin Spacey
Director: David Fincher
Producers: Arnold Kopelson and Phyllis Carlyle
Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
Music: Howard Shore
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema

Frequently, mystery/thrillers present us with a cast of about six or seven characters, set up a sequence of grizzly murders, then "surprise" us by revealing which of those six or seven characters is the guilty party. It's a time-honored method that's repeated in at least several movies each year. At the outset, Seven has all the hallmarks of this kind of motion picture. Fortunately, it turns out somewhat smarter and less predictable. Though not without significant flaws, Seven isn't transparent or moronic, and it doesn't insult the average viewer's intelligence.

When all is said and done, the mystery of Seven is not who the killer is -- there's never any question about the identity -- but how he will outsmart the police next, and what he will do as a climax to his killing spree. It's refreshing to find an intelligent maniac who is not undone by a moment of sheer stupidity. From beginning to end, Seven's murderer has the situation under control. The police are his pawns, not the other way around. Shades of Silence of the Lambs.

The good guys are a pair of detectives at opposite ends of their careers. David Mills (Brad Pitt) is new on the job, full of energy and high ideals, and ready to "make a difference" by catching the crooks. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is in his last week on the job. His long years studying crime scenes and following up on clues have left him weary and jaded. To him, being a detective isn't about nabbing criminals -- it's about methodically collecting and cataloguing evidence in case a prosecutor ever needs it.

The serial killer pursued by Mills and Somerset is choosing each of his victims based on which of the seven deadly sins (gluttony, greed, sloth, lust, pride, envy, wrath) they have most clearly violated. The deaths form a portion of a decidedly warped sermon.. In their quest to end this bloody, sadistic spree, the two cops appear well-paired, as together they make the perfect detective. Mills is all brawn and little brain. Somerset, on the other hand, spends long hours in the library researching Dante and Chaucer, looking for clues that will enable him to prevent the next killing.

One of the problems with Seven is that Pitt's Mills is not an especially likable character. He's cocky and arrogant, with an inflated opinion of himself. Up until the end, he's convinced that his way is always the best. Pitt doesn't turn in one of his most impressive performances here, either. There's no subtlety whatsoever. In this film, the actor has a single mode: overdrive. Somerset, on the other hand, is a subdued and balanced personality perfectly essayed by Morgan Freeman. By emoting less than his co-star, Freeman frequently steals scenes from him. Gwyneth Paltrow (Flesh and Bone, Jefferson in Paris), one of today's better young actresses, is woefully underused in the role of Mills' wife, Tracy.

Seven is unnecessarily gory and runs for a little too long, but neither of these elements detracts much from the film's enjoyability (unless you have a weak stomach). The same is true of several logical flaws -- they're there, but not overly apparent while the film is on-screen (they can be ruminated about after the credits have rolled). While Seven lacks the cleverness of the superior Usual Suspects, it's strong enough to hold its own against most other thrillers. Seven may always be grim, dark, and rainy, but at least there's a little substance beneath the atmosphere.

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