Thursday, November 18, 2010

Short Review: Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

David Fincher's masterpiece, Se7en (1995), follows Detectives William Sommerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt) as they become embroiled in a case involving a serial killer who commits several sadistic murders in correspondence with the seven deadly sins. Set in an unnamed city of frequent rain and urban decay (not dissimilar to the one in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner), Sommerset is a world-weary homicide veteran considering retirement. He becomes partnered with the young, short tempered and brash Mills, who has recently been transferred to the unit, and is still acclimatizing to the relocation. Starting out at odds with one another, their gifted partnership develops throughout the film. They first investigate the death of an obese man who was forced at gunpoint to eat himself to death. This represents 'Gluttony', which is later discovered written on the wall of the man's apartment behind his fridge. Sommerset establishes that they are tracking a serial killer, who chooses his victims based on his disgust of their social choices. They find clues at each of the crime scenes that lead to the next murder, in the first case a rich attorney (Greed). Behind an upside-down painting in his office they find the word 'HELP' spelled out with fingerprints, which lead them to an apartment where they find a badly decayed man strapped to his bed. He has been kept alive for exactly a year by the killer, but was now completely immobile and unable to communicate. He represents 'Sloth'. Using the library records and establishing a list of all the people who have borrowed books related to the seven deadly sins, they track down a man named Jonathan Doe. Arriving at his apartment they discover he isn't in, but the pair are fired upon by a man in the hallway. Mills pursues him through the apartment block, as he flees through occupied rooms, and ultimately out onto the street. He has an opportunity to kill Mills, but chooses not to. On the subsequent search of Doe's apartment they discover journals, photographs and the plans for his series of murders. They also discover his likely next target, a prostitute, but arrive too late to the horrific outcome of her demise. In a spectacular final third, Doe (portrayed by Kevin Spacey) turns himself in, and requests that he be escorted by Mills and Sommerset to a remote desert area miles outside the city, where he will reveal the whereabouts of his final two victims (representing Envy and Wrath). The conclusion is nothing short of amazing. 
Se7en is one of my favorite and most admired films, and one of the cinemas finest examples of the thriller genre. While it was a commercial and critical success, it was sadly overlooked at the awards season in 1995. Fueled by exceptional performances from Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow and especially Brad Pitt (who has never been better), and featuring stunning editing, and beautiful cinematography, this portrayal of the modern crime-riddled city has rarely been bettered. Working with yet another fantastic screenplay (in reference to Aaron Sorkin's recent work in The Social Network), Fincher's brooding, perfectionist style is impressively executed here. There are so many classic sequences that have become embedded in the psyche of audiences and culture alike, notably the discovery of Sloth (widely considered to be one of the scariest sequences ever filmed), Mills' pursuit of John Doe through the apartment block that sprawls onto the street (one of the most intense and impeccably choreographed chase sequences ever), the subsequent searching of John Doe's apartment, the disturbing discovery of Lust and the thrilling 'head-in-the-box' conclusion. Se7en is completely engaging, disturbing, shocking and often darkly amusing. If you wish to watch one film this weekend, I urge you to consider this one.

My Rating: 5 Stars


  1. Your selection of the strong sequences is impeccable. THe film introduced me to Spacey. I have tried something on Spacey at

  2. I went through a Spacey obsession for a while there and he stars in some of my favourite films - Se7en, The Usual Suspects, American Beauty and L.A Confidential. This film is amazing. A near-flawless serial killer thriller. Fincher's best? The Social Network was very good, but this stands the test of time. Thanks for reading!