FIVE STAR FILMS #40: Se7en (1995)

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seven_ver1There are many reasons why David Fincher’s Seven, one of my all-time favourite films and the film I believe to be Fincher’s best work to date (though that crown has been seriously challenged by Zodiac and The Social Network in recent years), is a Five Star Film. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, as respectively the recently transferred young hotshot and the world-weary, soon-to-be-retired veteran lured in for one last case, headline this nail biting police procedural. When a psychotic killer, who selects his victims based on the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins (Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Envy, Wrath), wreaks havoc across the film’s unnamed city, it is up to Detectives Mills (Pitt) and Somerset (Freeman) to put a stop to this meticulously planned mayhem. The detective pairing is familiar – we have seen it both before and after Seven – but not like this. Fincher’s world is indescribably ugly, and the case gets very personal.

Fincher and his Team

With the exception of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Fincher’s films are usually dark, cold, and stylish contemporary-set dramas/thrillers. Even The Social Network, one of Fincher’s lighter films,is remarkably moody. For me Seven is Fincher’s darkest and best-directed film. Set in a city of urban decay portrayed as continuously rain-soaked and revolting to the core. All of the elements of Fincher’s stylistic vision – his cleverly considered camera positioning, the lighting that accentuates the darkest shadows of the mise-en-scene (the work of legendary cinematographer Darius Kjondji, Delicatessen), the sharp editing (Richard Francis-Bruce, The Shawshank Redemption) and the brooding score (Howard Shore, Crash) – come together to create a flawless technical work.

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Sloth

All of the killings are unsettling – a man is forced by the killer to eat himself to death for example – but the revelation of the ‘Sloth’ victim offers up one of the most terrifying shocks in cinema. I’ll say no more.

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The Chase

Mills and Somerset, having learned of a man who has recently borrowed a series of blacklisted books about the Seven Deadly Sins from the state library under the alias of Jonathan Doe, visit his apartment to ask some questions. As they knock on the door they see a man in a long coat and a hat approaching at the end of the hall. Surprised, he stops and then pulls out a gun and fires at them. Mills desperately pursues Doe through the labyrinthine apartment block, a lengthy chase sequence that eventually sprawls onto the street. Mills is forced to change floors, navigate the foreign hallways, enter people’s apartments, and make a descent to the street level via a precarious fire escape ladder. Out on the street he pursues Doe through rain and peak hour traffic and into a sleazy alleyway where they confront one another. It is the most intense and impeccably choreographed chase sequence I have ever seen, and a brilliant set piece that significantly changes the film’s direction.

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The Cast/Characters

Freeman, methodical and contemplative and always the calming voice of reason, and Pitt, a headstrong young husband and an unpredictable detective who at times surrenders all rational emotion, have rarely been better than in Seven and give these somewhat uninspired characters an enormous lift. Even Gwyneth Paltrow turns in an excellent performance as Mills’ wife. There is another cast member who I won’t reveal, because his appearance will provide a shock for anyone yet seen the film, but he is also astounding. One of the facets of this film that I admire is the change in Mills following the aforementioned chase sequence. While the pair have both scoured the crime scenes and deciphered the clues together, Somerset is leading the investigation. But, it is the now deeply immersed Mills who clearly takes charge in the second half.

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The Ending

Seven’s famous ending, which Fincher and Pitt fought for against several considered alternatives – and these can be seen in storyboard form on the Special Edition DVD – is unforgettable. Set out in the middle of nowhere, it features a coordinated showdown between the key players. It is a completely unpredictable situation and the turn of events include several shocking twists. It is a devastatingly bleak conclusion to a film that offers little reprieve from its horrors.

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Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22