|Seven (1995; New Line Cinema)|
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey
I have already featured two of Fincher’s films on my top 40. He is a talented director with a standout voice. After heading his first feature, Alien 3, in ‘92, this music video director needed a challenge. Seven was a pretty obvious screenplay, taking the episodic structure of “this many of this thing is going to happen over this period of time”, giving a moody, grim and violent tone and putting two opposing styles of detection in the same room together to solve the case. From the screenplay, you would think there was not an original idea in there. However, this is no ordinary procedural. Seven is more than a crime thriller, it is a study in the psychology of a killer, and as a movie, it is an examination of how subtle techniques in filmmaking paint a deeper image of the story that you may not even know you are seeing. It delves into the mind of the villain long before we see or even hear him, and we can almost see his face in every scene leading up to the character’s introduction.
When an attorney is found facedown in a bowl of spaghetti, force-fed to death, a series of other strange crimes begin to occur, each one tagged with one of the Seven Deadly Sins, as taught in Catholic literature and explored in classical writings like The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost., of which the killer deemed them guilty. Morgan Freeman plays Det. Somerset, a soon-to-be-retired veteran who is known for his “over-analysis”. He is tagged to show his replacement the ropes, and it turns out he is to be succeeded by an overzealous and occasionally petulant younger detective named Mills (Pitt). Initially unwilling to take the case as he felt it would never end, Somerset is stuck trying to solve the murders as Mills and his wife slowly begin to break Somerset’s tough exterior. However, this is a crime with a counter, and the killer will not give up until at least seven souls are punished for their sins.
Like so many of Fincher’s films, Seven has a great ending. It is a film that actively involves the viewer, drawing them into the events as they unfold. Concentrating makes you feel the tension and stress of each scene. An air of dread fills every room, hall and street as Fincher plays games with your brain by choosing very specific levels of lighting and ambiance to match each moment in the script. Every line of dialogue matters, every drop of rain is deliberate and the moments of slow dialogue bring some of the ambiance to a haunting silence, as though you did not notice it until it was gone. All of Fincher’s subtleties executed here make Seven a stunning example of filmmaking. Aside from it being a good movie, it is a good point of study for the psychology of film, in how sights and sounds effect the audience. In a way, a movie hypnotizes you into feeling or thinking a certain way about a character, and the more subtle, the better. Seven is on my list, not only because I think it is an excellent thriller, but also because it is an exceptional exercise in suggestion from a master of his craft.