By Jon Roberts
The grim and gloomy world David Fincher creates in his film Seven is one that’s hard to forget. The film stars Morgan Freeman as Detective Somerset, a man who hopes his last six days on the force go by without any hiccups. The story picks up right as Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) joins the force and becomes Somerset’s partner. From there the two embark on an investigation about a serial killer who leaves a trail of bodies based on the seven deadly sins. The film is a non-stop thrill ride full of misery and gore, leaving no time to take a breath. Almost 20 years after its release, David Fincher’s Seven is still one of the most compelling films ever made.
The world created in the just-over-2-hour runtime builds into the misery and despair these characters are facing. In almost every exterior shot in the film, the city with no name is being constantly drenched in a heavy downpour of rain. What separates this film from most detective/serial killer dramas is not only the world-building but how the story is more about the characters rather than the murders themselves. Fincher takes viewers into these characters’ lives and shows how the new detective Mills and his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) struggle to adapt in the murky new city.
Pitt and Freeman are phenomenal together, and it’s in scenes like their dinner with Paltrow’s character that these characters come alive. The score by Howard Shore is skin crawling as these detectives get closer to the killer. The writer, Andrew Walker, puts the characters first and thus gives the audience a chance to actually care about their work because it affects their entire life. The film isn’t just about catching a bad guy, but about humanity and how these characters try to fight against this unknown city filled with pure evil.
With only music videos and the forgettable Alien 3 under his belt, Fincher graced his early career with a phenomenal piece of fiction. The film depicts gruesome and grotesque murders based on the seven deadly sins, like forcing a man to eat himself to death (gluttony) and the polar opposite, starving a man (sloth). Fincher knows how to play with the audience, for example when a character finds a clue that is extremely important he will hold back from revealing the clue right away. Much like the serial killer Miller and Somerset are searching for, Fincher plays with the audience, knowing what to give and when to give it.
Without ruining one of the best endings in cinema, the end of the film is a perfect example of this. Fincher knows that showing a character’s reaction to opening “the box” is more powerful than just showing what’s inside. As you are waiting and waiting you grip the blanket tighter and tighter, dying to know but really never wanting to know. This is the sign of a truly great director, much like Hitchcock. Fincher knows how to control his audience and where to lead them even if it’s not in the direction the viewer wants the film to go. This along with the powerful performances by Freeman, Pitt and Paltrow take what seems like a predictable detective story and turns it into one of the most nail-biting films ever made.