SEVEN [Spoilers] A film review by Jamahl Epsicokhan Copyright 1995 Jamahl Epsicokhan
Directed by David Fincher
Rating (out of 4): ****
(Warning to those who have not seen SEVEN: This review contains some spoiler information.)
SEVEN is a powerful, fully-realized film on the level of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It is a disturbing film that accomplishes its biggest of goals--it occupies the viewers mind long after the closing credits have rolled. While this film is not for the squeamish, there is no denying that SEVEN demands attention, for it is a film that transcends its genre in both style and substance.
For starters, classifying SEVEN as a "thriller" would not be an altogether complete classification of this film. While I was genuinely thrilled throughout, I would rather call SEVEN an "intense drama," because that is what it delivers--meaningful scenes with a relentlessness that does not readily let up. Part of Director David Finchers accomplishment is in style. He seems to have a knack for knowing exactly how the average person fears something as "simple" as a corpse. And visually, Fincher shows us the remains of murder victims in all-too-realistic and graphic terms (courtesy of Rob Bottin's always-grisly special effects). Throw in the appropriate but not-to-be-underestimated effects of lighting and a foreboding score and the result is a technical masterpiece of the murder scene. These scenes alone are quite impressive; as fascinating as they are harrowing.
Yet, SEVEN is more than just a technical accomplishment. In addition to style, Fincher supplies substance. SEVEN has compelling characters that it wants us to know and understand, and Fincher ties them all together in a completely pessimistic view of society. Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is a man who has nearly given up on the world. Its easy to see why. The world doesn't make sense. (Somerset drives this point home with a rather ghastly story of a robbery victim who was attacked just blocks from the police precinct. After knocked down and robbed of his wallet, the attacker stabbed the helpless man in both eyes.) Why should Somerset believe that by following this murder investigation and "picking up the pieces" he will be able to catch the killer? Somersets new partner, David Mills (Brad Pitt) has not given up on the world, perhaps because he is still young (and perhaps by having this optimism he's naive in this films portrayal of the world). He completely disagrees with Somersets abandonment of hope. However, David's wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) has so much fear of her urban surroundings, she isn't even sure if she wants to *tell* her husband about her recent pregnancy, let alone carry it until birth and attempt to raise it in this environment. These three characters are all performed with skill and authenticity that makes them feel like real people and not the typical Hollywood characters a lesser film might have offered. And in addition to making clear how each of these characters sees the world, Fincher gives us support for *why* they feel the way they do.
But if there's one character that underlines the message SEVEN is trying to convey, it has to be the killer, John Doe (Kevin Spacey). SEVEN's payoff lies in its ability to allow us to see how the killer views the world and what drives him to do what he does. One important thing to remember about Doe is how easy it is to simply dismiss him as a "psycho," with no motives behind his slayings. This is exactly the mistake Mills makes. In the extremely intense and superbly performed closing scenes, were allowed to see that Doe is, in his mind, merely a product of society. He's a killer who kills those who are bringing society down. In his mind he didn't kill "innocent" people, and, perhaps, they were not completely innocent (but, then again, who is?). Hes absolutely infuriated that Mills believes that the murder victims were innocent. Really, SEVEN doesn't just comment on the superficial obviousness of how screwed-up John Doe is. SEVEN makes larger statements about how screwed-up society is, hinting that society's degradation is simply conducive of creating more John Does.
Besides the stylistic and larger-issue arguments for seeing this film, I recommend SEVEN because it is, after all, also a very slick and well-made thriller. It features exciting plot developments, commanding performances, lots of suspense, and a conclusion that is chilling, riveting, and quite unfair. But then again, its a cruel world.
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