Se7en (1995)

reviewed by
Steve Rhodes


                                   SEVEN
                       A film review by Steve Rhodes
                        Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****):  *** 1/2

SEVEN is film that pushes the edge of the movie envelope. Its artistic ancestors are probably SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and PULP FICTION, and yet SEVEN stands alone as a totally unique cinematic experience. Although a lot of the critics love it, there are many frightening and gross images that may have the squeamish heading for the exits before even the first scene is over. On the other hand, if you have a strong stomach and you liked either of SEVEN's above putative relatives, there is a good chance you may love this show as much as I did.

From the opening you know something unusual is unfolding in front of you. First, the initial credits are shot with flashing images, type going in and out of focus to strange sounding music, and cross hatch marks on the film like this is some ancient print. Do not go complain to the poor guy working at the snack bar, this is what the film maker intended.

As soon as you learn to accept the bizarre credits, you realize that the cinematography (Darius Khondji) is on the dark side of black. You had better see this show on the big screen. Its low contrast, black images will never transfer well to TV. The colors in it are mainly shades of grays so that any images with primary colors really stand out. At first I did not know what to make of the filming, but then I realized how well the technique fit and set the mood of the picture. Many scenes had pouring gray rain to further enhance the dismal ambiance. In the end I decided the cinematography deserved an Academy Award nomination. It was that innovative and involving.

Along with the camerawork, the sets by Arthur Max were depressingly and shockingly perfect. Many of the sets were lit by 25 watt bulbs so that the detectives had to use big flashlights to inspect the crime scene even though the room lights were on.

So what is this show about you ask? Is it just another mood piece where the techniques are the show? Oh no, this has a well written script (Andrew Kevin Walker) and a director (David Fincher) who is in total control. You may or may not mind the gore, but you can certainly respect someone who can fashion a picture with such attention to detail and such careful planning.

The movie is about an extremely smart serial killer known only as John Doe. He is played to perfection in a small but excellent part by Kevin Spacey who is one of the best bad guys in the movies today. See CONSENTING ADULTS or THE USUAL SUSPECTS for more examples of his villainy. This serial killer is out to kill people in a recreation of each of the seven deadly sins. The first sin we see is gluttony. Try to imagine a horrible way to kill a guy so big he can not leave his house. You did not guess horrible enough.

The movie uses the cliche of an old retiring cop, William Sommerset (Morgan Freeman), breaking in a new cop, David Mills (Brad Pitt). It does it in such fresh ways, that you do not mind you have seen this setup a hundred times before. Much as a chess master may use a standard opening and yet craft an entirely unique game, the writer weaves a compelling story out of formula ingredients. Here Freeman gives another Academy Award caliber performance as a low key but very sure master detective. Pitt, whom I rarely like, does the best piece of acting I have ever seen him do.

So much about this movie is outstanding in so many ways. The music is dramatic and helps set the mood. I think the editing by Richard Francis-Bruce deserves another award. The way he can use cuts from slow pieces to fast ones and then quick cuts in the fast ones gets the audience's adrenaline pumping. A good example of this is when the police cars come flying out of the police station when the police think they finally have the killer's location. One minute we have a contemplative scene, and the next your heart is racing with the fast edits.

The script has so many examples of fine writing a la PULP FICTION that I would be happy to see an award here as well. When Detective Mills gets frustrated trying to track down the killer through the library, he says, "He's a nut case. Just because he has a library card doesn't make him Yoda." When the killer muses on his place in the scheme of things, he declares that, "If you want people to pay attention, you can't tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to use a sledgehammer to get their attention." Finally, Detective Sommerset reflects that "Ernest Hemingway once wrote that 'the world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part." A show is only as good as its ending. Suffice it to say that SEVEN's ending is on par with the rest of the movie and is filled with many surprises, large and small.

I was flabbergasted when I read that SEVEN runs 2:07. It feels like 1:30 at most since it is so well paced. It is incorrectly rated R for massive gore and violence. Personally, I think the MPAA should be more generous with the NC-17 rating which is what I would give SEVEN. It is not suitable for teenagers, but I recommend it highly to adults who like cop shows and who like films that are willing to be out on the fringes, and I award it *** 1/2.


**** = One of the top few films of this or any year. A must see film. *** = Excellent show. Look for it. ** = Average movie. Kind of enjoyable. * = Poor show. Don't waste your money. 0 = One of the worst films of this or any year. Totally unbearable.
REVIEWED WRITTEN ON: October 1, 1995

Opinions expressed are mine and not meant to reflect my employer's.


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