Se7en (1995)

reviewed by
John Ulmer

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There is a great, chilling moment in "Se7en," at the end of the film, when something totally unexpected happens. It blew me out of my seat in surprise and will deservedly be remembered as one of the most sickening and unexpected film endings of all time. I can't put it into words, nor will I ruin it, I will just say that it should be seen be everyone.

The film is, in my opinion, better than "The Silence of the Lambs," which may have inspired "Se7en" but does no surpass it in greatness. "Se7en" is a bit more surprising, a bit more engaging, and a bit more fun to watch. Its two leads, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, truly carry the movie, and Kevin Spacey's performance is one of his best.

The premise of serial killers is one of the most over-used plot backdrops in film history - Nicolas Cage even pointed this out in "Adaptation." But "Se7en" is something more: It revolves around a serial killer who is choosing his victims according to the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust, and so on and so forth.

The film opens with Detective Sommerset (Freeman), a bachelor who is going to be transferring to another precinct, or retiring, one of the two. Mills (Pitt) is the experienced rookie (he's been around but not in this gritty city), and so Somerset is showing him the ropes when they become entwined in bizarre murder cases by a villain who will eventually be named "John Doe." He kills his victims according to the Seven Deadly Sins. He makes a very fat man cut a pound of flesh from his body, for example. It is gruesome and Director David Fincher doesn't hold back on the visuals, but that is part of what makes it so disturbing.

Mills has a wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), who despises their new location. "I hate this city!" she says, crying. But she puts up with it as best she can for her husband, and trusts Somerset with the news that she is to have a child, and that she does not want the child brought up in this dirty city. Somerset, to his credit, understands exactly what she means, as he hates the city, too. We feel that at one time, the energetic Mills was just like Somerset. Nothing could damper his spirits. But after a while he became wiser, and realized just how filthy the area was. We feel that in thirty years, Mills will be just like Somerset.

Somerset seems very wise; Andrew Kevin Walker's script gives him many poetic lines to speak. Brad Pitt is enthusastic, ready for anything, and sick of his partner's slow pacing. In one corner there is Pitt's character, speaking his mind, and in the other corner there is Freeman, standing back from the entire picture and sorting everything mentally in his brain. These are two great actors at work here, two great actors who become their character to the point that we no longer believe they are even acting at all.

David Fincher ("Fight Club," "The Game") is a talented director who goes for evocative atmosphere and dark, gritty surroundings. I personally think he was absolutely perfect for "Se7en," as a director that would withhold the visuals and gruesomeness and darkness of it all really would ruin a film such as this, a film that deserves to be bold and exposing.

"Se7en" is one of the most disturbing, powerful, moving, dark, gritty, engaging, surprising, encompassing thrillers I have ever seen. This is how thrillers should be made. This is perfection. If only every director could understand how to handle material like David Fincher does. And for once, the ending does not become stereotypical, it doesn't become ludicrous - for once in a thriller, the ending is the most poignant scene in the entire motion picture, the exclamaton mark at the end of a moving sentence. It's about time.

Copyright, 2003, John Ulmer, please send comments to

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