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SEVEN (Se7en) (director: David Fincher; screenwriter: Andrew Kevin Walker; cinematographer: Darius Khondji; editor: Richard Francis-Bruce; music: Howard Shore; cast: Brad Pitt (David Mills), Morgan Freeman (William Somerset), Kevin Spacey (John Doe), Gwyneth Paltrow (Tracy Mills), R. Lee Ermey (Police Captain), Richard Roundtree (D. A. Talbot); Runtime: 127; New Line Cinema; 1995)
It is one of the best and most intelligent serial killer films ever made.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director David Fincher’s stylish psychological thriller is set in the bowels of NYC and is about mismatched homicide detectives tracking down a biblically inspired elusive serial killer. It is one of the best and most intelligent serial killer films ever made. Detective David Mills (Brad Pitts) is a young, cocky, fiery man, who requested he be transferred to the inner city. His attractive wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) hates the city and reluctantly let her macho hubby talk her into moving here from their more serene upstate residence. The lowbrow David is assigned to work with the testy, highly educated, world-weary and enigmatic 34-year veteran bachelor, Lt. Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). He is retiring in one week because he is tired of dealing with so much crime and of the public’s apathy, and is not receptive to his new partner and his cowboy attitude. Somerset has no interest in breaking him in.

Their first assignment is the gruesome death of a homebound man who is so fat he can’t fit through the door of his shabby apartment. The man died while forced to eat for days and is found with his head buried in a dish of pasta sauce, and on the wall behind the refrigerator is scribbled in blood the word — Gluttony. There’s also a pound of flesh cut off from his body. Somerset wants off this case, since he realizes this is going to be a long and complex one and he hates to retire without solving it.

Somerset suspects he’s dealing with a serial killer, and soon he’s proven right as a second gruesome murder is discovered. A wealthy, high-profile criminal lawyer, Eli Gould, is bled to death and with his blood the word Greed is written on the floor. Somerset makes the biblical connection to the Seven Deadly Sins–1) Gluttony. 2) Greed. 3) Sloth. 4) Wrath. 5) Pride. 6) Lust. 7) Envy. He thereby goes to the library to research authors who have written about these sins, and gives his partner a reading list that includes Dante, Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer, and Milton.

There are five more murders on the way in this dark, moody thriller. The detectives are brought together by David’s wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). She invites Somerset to dinner in the couple’s apartment and that act allows the men to get to know each other better and to gradually bond despite their differences.

The serial killer is known as John Doe. And as diabolical as his crimes are, he is nevertheless brilliant in his execution of them. In all the crime scenes, he leaves no prints. Victim number three is tied to the sin of sloth. He was a drug dealer and had been strapped to his bed for a year and had been tortured all that time. His semi-dark apartment is made more eerie by dozens of Christmas tree air-fresheners hanging from the ceiling. When the police find him he is barely alive with his brain crushed and his tongue missing. Somerset realizes that he can’t get off the case because he now feels compelled to catch the serial killer, and that Mills doesn’t have the experience or the temperament to get this type of killer without his expertise.

Somerset by using his uncanny skills hits a lucky break by tracing the killer’s address to a library card. But when they show up at John Doe’s apartment, he spots them first and flees across rooftops and alleys. John Doe even had a chance to kill Mills, but chooses not to.

The serial killer mocks the detectives by leaving clues to his next crimes. But they are just not able to get there in time to save the next victims: one is a prostitute who is sexually tortured to death and the other a pretty woman whose face is disfigured, who die for ‘lust’ and ‘pride.’

The detectives are surprised when the killer walks into their police-station to surrender, with blood dripping from his fingers. He refuses to give his real name and no info on him could be found. He also says there are two other bodies and he will only go with Somerset and Mills to where they can be found.

This leads to the astonishing finale, as the serial killer pulls off his psychotic mastermind plan. It is gross, shocking, volatile, and extremely insane. The outstanding script by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker is skillfully conceived, makeup artist Rob Bottin’ special effects are effectively scary, Fincher’s direction is maddeningly tense and taut, and the noirish and darkly graphic cinematography by Darius Khondji forces the viewer to see the crime scene in the horrible way it looks. The eloquent performances by Freeman, Pitt and the uncredited killer, are very satisfying. There’s nothing groundbreaking, but it was mesmerizing to watch such sadism played out.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”