Seven (1995) , A retrospective review


Director – David Fincher

Writer – Andrew Kevin Walker

Stars – Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow

The next step on my run-down of IMDB’s top 250 films of all times takes me into murky neo-noir territory with ‘Seven’; the film that launched David Fincher, alongside Fight Club (1999)  into a hipster icon, as his posters would go on to adorn, first-year film student’s walls worldwide. It also marked, alongside Silence of The Lambs (1991), a cultural milestone, as the intelligent serial killer returned to push-aside the masked slashers of the 70’s/80’s, and John Doe, The Zodiac Killer, would leave his legacy on cinema forever.

For me personally, Seven is a relatively straightforward affair throughout the first two acts of the film, before morphing into a finale that simply cannot be denied as one of the most intense endings you are likely to see in any film that snuck its way into the mainstream eye and exists outside of the art-house spectrum. Walker’s screenplay begins with some pretty unforgivably clunky exposition; ‘You’re always asking questions Somerset’, that relatively quickly present to us our character dynamics and what sort of players this game will be featuring. Eventually though, once this exposition is dealt with and the script is allowed to breath naturally, it evolves into a good (if not great) one. Particularly, a later speech on the nature of Apathy by Freeman’s Somerset is impressive.

In terms of the aforementioned characterisations, the film unfortunately relies on old tropes and charicatures that do nothing whatsoever to break any new ground. We’ve got Freeman’s Somerset; the old, cynical detective who’s consistent familiarisation with death and debauchery has left him emotionally cold to the world. This in turn allows him to thoroughly think rationally and calmly about every small detail, never allowing emotion to get in the way. Think a contemporary Sherlock Holmes, minus the opium addiction, and you’ve pretty much summarised Somerset.

He’s paired up with Brad Pitt’s David Mills; a hot-headed ‘rookie’, still full of hope for the world, run purely by emotion, which leads him at first into conflict with Somerset, before, predictably, they earn one another’s respect. This isn’t necessarily poor writing, as the relationship feels authentic enough, it just feels like we’ve seen it all before. More than likely, you have. And, as for Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of Mills’ wife, Tina, the less said the better. The character exists entirely as a plot device in order to; A, bring together Mills and Somerset as a unit, and B, in order to play the ending’s McGuffin. I’m not an active feminist, but even I was irked by how important her character was to the narrative, yet simultaneously how she, as a human being, was devoid of anything interesting to do or say.

Seven, as a story, is an intriguing yarn, if predictable in places. (It was obvious the fingerprints behind the painting would lead to the next victim as opposed to the killer) – but perhaps that was intentional, as we the audience reflect the cynicism of Freeman’s Somerset. Unfortunately, the rapid-editing and dramatic police shots suggest we were supposed to buy it, temporarily. I hope not, because I certainly didn’t and can think of few intelligent film-goers who would. Fincher’s direction throughout is strong enough, and the cinematography is decent if nothing particularly innovative, other than one impressive chase sequence, and THAT ending. We get a lot of noir staples; flashlights, darkness, low-lighting, emotional close-ups, and what is most impressive is the muted or ‘greyed-over’ colour palette that would remain a Fincher staple right up until Gone Girl in 2014. The mis-en-scene matches the film’s atmosphere tone-perfectly, and as such deserves praise.

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Seven was designed and built around the emotional impact of its final act, an act so powerful that, like the Sixth Sense, you don’t remember how the rest of the film wasn’t that impressive until several hours after you’ve finished the movie. A lot of this is down to Kevin Spacey as his performance as John Doe violently wrenches the spotlight from Freeman and Pitt, and in turn his performance, whilst the shortest of the three, in terms of screen time, superscedes them both. That’s not to say that Freeman or Pitt are bad, as neither ever are, but Spacey is just that damn good. From the moment he enters the picture until the moment he exits, he steals the show and elevates the film to a higher plateu. The parallels in thought pattern’s between Doe and Somerset give the film an extra dimension in the final act, as we realise they are merely two sides of one coin.

Seven is effectively a very decent if unoriginal neo-noir thriller, featuring a unique and iconic villain that transcends the film’s final act into a work of pure tension. If the film doesn’t immediately draw you in, despair not, and stick with it. This is all about the final act, and it delivers in a blaze of glory.


Final Rating – 4.2


Joshua Moulinie.

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