Archive Review: Se7en (1995) – 4.5/5 Stars

Murder mysteries don’t often indulge their audience’s intellectual capacity. They generally believe they can get by on suspense, intrigue and our inherent and insatiable need to find out ‘whodunit.’ But “Se7en” is a philosophical thriller that addresses a much bigger part of our nature – the age old question of whether or not humans are inherently evil.

As gripping as it is the way it turns gears in your head in search of any way to get mentally one step ahead of the plot, “Se7en” is a first-rate crime thriller because of the ideas fueling the story and a director in David Fincher who perfectly understands them.

More than a story of two detectives on the trail of a serial killer committing murders based on the seven deadly sins, “Se7en” wants to be something bigger. It wants you to take a breather from figuring it out and chew on something a little more sophisticated, like say, human nature. The contemplative script by Andrew Kevin Walker gives us plenty of time for this as retiring Lt. Somerset (Freeman) and Det. Mills (Pitt) bicker over the killer’s motives together or even have dinner at Mills’ apartment. It’s not just about the mystery and what psychology or ideals drive the killer — those ideas echo throughout the film and even in these basic conversational scenes.

None of that would be communicated well, however, without Fincher (“Alien 3”). “Se7en” takes place in an unnamed rundown city, presumably in modern day, and that locational flexibility allows Fincher and whoever scouted locations the ability to film the movie in places that would better tell this story about human nature. The murder scenes take place in seedy, decrepit apartments — all usually dark — in attempt to tell a story of humanity in its darkest place, at it’s very worst. Constant use of on-screen lights (e.g characters holding flashlights, red lamps, etc) give the film its signature while also extending the metaphor. It’s the work of a director who understands the script through and through and has command of his vision.

The characters are also extremely sophisticated and believable as are the performances of the actors playing them. Freeman comes fresh off his Oscar-winning performance in “The Shawshank Redemption” and absolutely dominates the pacing of the film. We take our cues on when to relax, when to get more curious and when to get passionate from his performance. On the verge of retirement, we see perfectly how this one life-changing case challenges his hardened world view.

Even Pitt’s Mills, in his impatience, naivety and quick-tempered rebellious perspective, goes quickly from characteristics that feel a little forced to monumentally epiphanic near the climax. Pitt’s taken on numerous roles in his career where we think we’re getting the shells of a character role but we end up getting something meaningful after all.

That’s sort of the way “Se7en” works on the whole. Before you can even realize it, you suddenly realize you’ve been watching a thoughtful two-hour sermon about mankind’s true nature and its inclination toward evil with a large order of murder mystery on the side. Few thrillers give us the pleasure of meditating on such important ideas, in this case a question at the center of philosophy for hundreds if not thousands of years.

4.5/5 Stars

Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt


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