On the surface, Seven appears to be a standard murder mystery. Someone is killing people in a manner influenced by the Seven Deadly Sins. Sounds like it could be a generic episode of any number of cop shows. However, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker has crafted a story far more complex and intriguing than it seems. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman star as Detectives Mills and Somerset, respectively, and it is within these two characters that the real meat of the story lies.
These are fascinating characters, thrown together by happenstance in the case of their lives. As the investigation progresses, Somerset and Mills evolve from character types into people. At first, they don’t seem to have a lot in common, but a mutual respect eventually develops. They have real conversations, which can be unusual in modern film. Pitt plays Mills as young and enthusiastic. This is in direct contrast with Morgan’s portray of Somerset. It turns out that this is going to be Somerset’s last case, and after many years of being a detective, he has developed a great deal of wisdom and insight into the ways of the world. He is a quiet man, one with an appreciation for libraries and classical music. They seem an unlikely pairing, but the dynamic of these characters lead to some fascinating conversation.
As the film progresses, they are taken to some very dark places, physically and mentally. This is not always an easy film to watch. It takes place in a city that is never given a name, but seems to have a very dark undercurrent to it. It’s apparent that Somerset has seen a lot of horrible things and is almost amused by Mill’s eagerness to find himself a part of this world. And as for the seven murders themselves, they can be VERY brutal. The film isn’t necessarily all that graphic, but it is very suggestive. In depicting the sins of sloth, envy, wrath, greed, gluttony, pride and lust, the killer is able to visually represent the worst of human nature.
Director David Fincher shoots these segments with an artists eye. While every sequence is truly horrific, they are simultaneously fascinating. I saw this movie when it first came out in 1995, and yet I still remembered each and every crime scene as I rewatched the film for this review. The details are meticulous, and designed for maximum impact. This is a film that will stay with you long after you’ve finished watching.
As the film escalates, it becomes apparent that this isn’t simply about the murders. The murders are simply devices to tell a greater story. I don’t want to get too specific for those who haven’t seen it, but this is a masterful script in the way it brings everything together. This is a film with a purpose. There isn’t a moment of wasted screen time, and it all exists in order to build to one of the best finales this genre has ever had. The last act of the film begins with them already having the killer. It is from this moment forward where Fincher is able to milke an extreme amount of suspense out of extended conversation.
I don’t want to discuss the finale anymore, out of fear of giving too much away. I will just say that it is a perfect ending to what had already been a shocking film. This was a film that really broke new ground. From the unsettling opening credits all the way to the backwards running ending credits, Fincher masterfully kept audiences on edge. Considering how played out the genre has become, I was shocked at how well the film holds up. I found myself just as hooked as the first time I saw it.
The recently released Blu-Ray is a terrific set, especially if you’ve never owned the film in any other medium. I already have the DVD relese from several years ago, and was disappointed to discover that a lot of the material was taken from that release. However, it’s all great material, and still worth watching. There are several commentaries, broken up into four categories (the stars, the story, the pictures, and the sound). There is also a fantastic nine-minute feature on the production design. The look of the film was critical in setting a mood and tone, and this is established repeatedly throughout the extras. There’s an alternate opening and a selection of extended scenes. Honestly, I’m not a fan of watching extended scenes, and I didn’t particularly enjoy any of these. In several of them, I could barely notice the difference. There’s also a fascinating analysis of the amazing and disturbing opening credit sequence, and some technical looks at audio and video mastering, color correction, etc.
Regardless of how good the extras were, I’d still be recommending this set. This film will be regarded as a classic. It is a true masterpiece of character analysis, story structure and production design. This is one of the best films of the 90’s, and a must-own for any fan of the genre.