Director David Fincher’s brilliant postmodern crime thriller is a grim and disturbing tale about a vicious serial killer on the loose in an unnamed city. Intelligently scripted by Andrew Kevin Walker, Se7en is a work of extraordinary style, upsetting power and narrative daring.
It also boasts fine performances from Morgan Freeman as disillusioned soon-to-retire Detective William Somerset and Brad Pitt as his enthusiastic but hotheaded replacement, David Mills – while Gwyneth Paltrow makes a brief though significant appearance as Mills’s uneasy and pregnant wife, Tracy.
With only seven days left on the job, Somerset finds himself irresistibly drawn to a puzzling case where a psychopath murders his victims in a gruesome manner to atone for the sins he deems them to have committed: a hugely obese man is forced to eat until his stomach bursts in the name of gluttony; a greedy lawyer is made to slice off a pound of flesh until he bleeds to death; a slothful drug addict is left tied to a bed for a year; a lustful hooker is murdered by a john with a razor-edged dildo, and a vain woman is mutilated and given the choice between survival as a mutilated freak or suicide.
The last two sins are taken care of in the finale as the envious killer ‘John Doe’ (Kevin Spacey) reveal is that he has decapitated Mills’ pregnant wife and express-mailed the head to a desert location.
The punchline is that the wrathful Mills destroys his own soul (“David, if you kill him, he will win”) in empty vengeance by gunning down Doe according to his demented plan.
Although very little of each murder is shown, the director expertly allows suggestion to lead the appalled viewer towards the truly shattering climax.
Purposely draining his landscapes of colour, and setting all the tense action against rain-washed streets and underlit interiors, Fincher evokes an atmosphere of nightmare proportions as he unfolds a compelling tale of urban horror.
The storyline goes beyond unlikely into deliberate realms of metaphysics, where a serial killer’s elaborate spree – he has spent over a year setting up a plot apparently designed to warp the mind of a man he can only have been aware of for a week – is as much a philosophical exploration as a mad crime, intended to convince the cops on the case that the world is an infernal cesspool.
Freeman infuses the bleak scenario with dignity and quiet credibility, while Pitt uses his meaty role as the raw young cop trying to make sense of the nightmare to stride into the company of the Hollywood giants.
Detective David Mills
Lieutenant William Somerset
John C McGinley
R Lee Ermey