Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, and pride. These are the seven deadly sins as written by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century, updating the work of Evagrius Ponticus in the 4th century. These cardinal vices are said to be the seven most objectionable sins a man can commit. However, for the 15 centuries this list has been around, mankind cannot seem to abide by the rules. Millions and millions of people everyday, including myself, indulge in these sins, and feel no immediate consequences (what awaits us in the afterlife, we can never be sure). Perhaps we should look upon this as a blessing, for if everyone in the world that committed one of these sins was chastised for them at once, there would not be much of a population left today. For this, we should thank our lucky stars that we do not live in the world of Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt). Mills has just transferred to a dark, ominous, unnamed city that oozes all things evil. For his first case Mills is paired up with Detective William Somerset, the very man he is replacing, to investigate the strange murder of a morbidly obese man found with his hands and feet bound and his face down in a plate of spaghetti. When another seemingly unrelated murder is discovered, the detectives start to suspect that they are dealing with a serial killer who chooses his victims based on the seven deadly sins. With five more murders to expect, Somerset and Mills have to piece the puzzle together before they, or someone they love, gets hurt. Although the story is unique, Se7en is executed ineffectively and leaves the viewer wanting more (not in the good way).
A friend of mine once described Se7en as "if Fight Club had a baby with Saw, you would get Se7en". For the most part, this is a fairly accurate description, but don't be fooled. Mashing two really good movies together does not always create a great movie. In this case, it churns out a a very average movie that aspires to be something unforgettable. Director David Fincher, famous for Fight Club and recent Best Picture nominee The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (I think he has a thing for Brad Pitt), adds his noticeable touch behind the camera, but without the strength you'd expect. Given the film's unpleasant subject matter, it would make sense for the setting to be a generic rainy city that shows no light, or no signs of hope for its inhabitants. But there is a difference between dark and pitch black, which Fincher sometimes forgets throughout the film. If he wanted to give Se7en the feeling of a film noir, he should have just gone ahead and done the entire movie in black and white. Fincher was not a bust at the position of director, but simply made some mistakes that hindered Se7en's progress. Some scenes were shot superbly, one in particular when the SWAT team and Mills and Somerset discover the victim for Sloth. This scene was one of the few that I felt truly captured the ugliness, grittiness, and severity of this created world.
Se7en may not have succeeded as a whole, but there was one moment in the film where everybody involved surpassed brilliance. The people in particular are director David Fincher, screenplay author Andrew Kevin Walker, and the casting directors of the film. I am referring to the reveal of the serial killer, aptly named John Doe. There is one scene in Walker's terrific screenplay (one of the few things of this film that was terrific) where Somerset and Mills sit at a bar discussing the situation at hand. Somerset turns to Mills and says, "If we catch John Doe and he turns out to be the devil, I mean if he's Satan himself, that might live up to our expectations. But he's not the devil...he's just a man". At that point the viewer thinks this is just a message Somerset is relaying to Mills. Time passes in the film, and we reach the point when Joe Doe presents himself. Fincher sets the camera on Doe's legs and shows nothing more. The anticipation grows because you cannot wait to see who they got to play this maniacal freak. Did they get a tall, lurching actor with a booming voice and a built upper body? Is it an unknown actor done up with makeup and prosthetics to seem deformed? No, it was just...well actually, I'd prefer not to say. It ruins the surprise. But when the camera finally moves up and shows John Doe's face and you discover that it is _____ ______, you understand exactly what Somerset was talking about. This was nothing more than a plain man, one that you would see riding the subway or walking his dog. It just goes to show you that appearances can be deceiving.
Staying with the idea that appearances can be deceiving, the most disappointing aspect of Se7en was the below average acting from a stellar cast. Seeing the names Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman on the poster can trick a viewer into thinking they are watching a film with terrific acting, but alas, it is only a trick. Pitt in particular does little to really invent his character Detective David Mills. More or less, he seemed to simply recite the lines as he read them off the script. At the end of the film, when Mills is faced with a particularly difficult decision, Pitt's acting slips into near comedy as he just contorts his face trying to look emotional. He might as well have been saying, "Oh wow look at how emotional I am being right now. Don't I just look so conflicted?" No, he just looked foolish. Morgan Freeman does a better job with Detective Somerset, but still doesn't put his best foot forward. With Freeman, most of his acting in Se7en came from his countenance. Unlike Pitt, whose face is too young and smooth, Freeman exudes the feeling of a man who has spent way too much time in this unforgiving city. He is tired of the senseless crimes he is forced to investigate, and he wants out. Aside from his face, though, Freeman is a standard addition. The one performance in this film that was complete was that of the man who I'd prefer to keep unnamed, so like his character, I'll simply call him John Doe. Doe's interactions with Pitt and Somerset are truly unsettling. His calm, even voice matched with the simple face will confuse you, because you won't believe that such horrible crimes were being committed by this man. Doe's screen time is hardly enough, and I would have liked to have seen more of him.
Despite all the negatives of Se7en, I would say there are just enough positives to balance them out. But a fair warning to all of you. There are lots of disturbing, realistic images in this film that you may not enjoy. Also, if you are not a fan of depressing endings, you definitely will not enjoy this film. At 127 minutes, Se7en does lag a bit, but like I said, there are just enough positives to recommend this film. My rating (6/10)