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  • Nate Lemann

SE7EN (1995) MOVIE REVIEW

Updated: Jul 16

In our second entry of David Fincher month, we revisit the film that put him on the map and redefined our relationship to boxes.


by Nate Lemann

an image from "Se7en"
from "Se7en"
 

Early on in David Fincher’s 1995 neo-noir classic, Morgan Freeman’s Det. William Somerset asks a fellow detective if a child bore witness to his mother killing his father. The other detective gets irate at the question, telling Somerset that is why no one likes him: he has asks questions like that. With that, we are thrust into the nihilistic hellscape that is the world of “Se7en”: a world more comfortable not to grapple with the fallout of this depressing reality.


After Fincher’s competent but flawed first feature “Alien 3”, the director found a way to level up in a way that is so breathtaking that it feels he had finally come fully formed in this film. The direction, the pacing, the tone, and the characterizations are absolute perfection. Before we even get to the eponymous seven crimes, we can already feel the world suffocating out any hope or joy. 


As Somerset is set to retire, he is partnered with a young hotshot named David Mills (Brad Pitt). There first case together is the seeming murder of an overweight individual, who appears to have been forced to…eat himself death? Somerset knows all too well that this is the start of something far worse and wants off the case, against the protests of the over-eager Mills. When his warnings aren’t heeded, they get dragged into the many layers of hell as more deaths and horrific crime scenes follow. 


What stood out to me on this viewing is how funny this movie actually plays with an audience. I was fortunate to see this as a 4K restoration at the Paris Theater in New York (part of a mini-series of showings called “Bleak Week”), and the audience was hollowing at Pitt and R. Lee Ermey’s gruff captain. Most people wouldn’t think of this as film with any sort of humor, especially how bleak the ending is, but this must’ve been a big factor how a movie so dark and pulverizing could’ve been such a box office force when it was released back in '95. 


I was also deeply struck by the chemistry that was coming of the screen between Gwyneth Paltrow and…Morgan Freeman. I think it may be stronger than her connection to Brad Pitt (who she was actually dating at the time). They have such an effortless affection and care for each other. It makes the whole proceedings all the more tragic. I also really felt an impending dread this whole time as we approached this film’s conclusion. It was felt throughout my screening. Just brutal.


It also has to be said that this ending being an intellectual battle and not an action-packed extravaganza is one of the smartest and bravest choices in film history. Especially at the time when this film was seen to be a rip-off of Lethal Weapon before it came out, it could’ve been easy to go the more traditional Hollywood route and make this a buddy cop shoot ‘em up. Instead, it took a more complex and brutalist path that gave its villain his intellectual win.


Freeman is so damn good in this. The dinner scene when he bursts out laughing is the film’s best special effect, cracking the veneer of his haunted and haggard tough exterior. Pitt is maybe a bit too over-animated at times and cliche, but that all ends up being a very intentional choice that only serves to compound the tension at the end. Spacey is always the most chilling part of this and the script turning him into a supervillain level genius goes beyond stretching credulity…yet still works so well from a cinematic perspective. It all expertly laid out by Andrew Kevin Walker's masterpiece of a script.


DP Darius Khondji and Fincher establish an aesthetic that comes to define the rest of Fincher’s career: a clinical observation of perversion in all its messy and human complexity. It at times feel restrained in its stillness but it has also chilling impressionistic feel at other times. He went from being a wild music video provocateur who thumbed his work in the face of puritanical 1980s America to his more restrained, yet still quite perverse, auteur director persona. This is the movie where he announced himself to be major voice in major American studio cinema and quite possibly the best and most consistent director of his generation.


 

FINAL RATING: 5/5 (Neo-Noir at its best - timeless masterpiece)

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Hi! I'm Nate and I love to talk all things movies. I'll be posting new reviews, recent rewatches, and much more on this site. So come on and let's talk movies! 

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