90s Movie Challenge Week 24: Se7en (1995)

Welcome back, pals, for another gripping instalment of #90sMC. This week, Aaron Nash not wanting to be slothful (and hoping to avoid the wrath of our Ed. upstairs in WGN Towers) has written a piece in which he can take real pride (and that made us all a little envious).

(I see what you’re doing and I’m not impressed. However, I am interested to see how you mangle your intro to shoehorn in the rest of them. Ed.)

If you have a lust for great films and you’re not a glutton for punishment, then we are all a-greed (Really? Ed.) that you should check out his piece about David Fincher’s 1995 crime thriller.

(I’ll allow it. This time. Ed.)

That’s right! It’s Seven (or Se7en).

The cinematic world is full of psychological crime thrillers, with the 90s being a golden time for ones that have now become classics of the genre. In 1995 the fairly fresh movie director David Fincher unleashed the phenomenon that was Se7en into the world. Having worked mainly in music videos and only having directed one feature film before, the massively underrated Alien 3, Se7en kind of came out of nowhere.

Much has already been said over the years about the film and it is often cited as one of the best movies in the genre, so what follows is more an examination into why I personally think the film is great and why I believe it has stood the test of time when many movies quickly become forgotten. I will try to keep spoilers at a minimum.

For those who haven’t seen the film and know very little about it; It follows veteran detective Somerset (played by Morgan Freeman) working one last case before retirement. He is given a partner in the form of Mills (Brad Pitt) who may be out of his depth in a series of murder cases echoing the seven deadly sins.

Straight out the gate, the film isn’t a light and happy film. It’s not like the tv crime dramas full of explosions and montage sequences (although the opening titles of Se7en are essentially a grim montage). What we have here is a heightened reality where there is very little light. Where almost every scene is shrouded in darkness or rain. It’s a world that harks back to the noir films of old while expertly creating its own voice. There’s almost a neo-noir quality and the world has a very dystopian feel with an ever-lashing rain continuously pouring down upon the city. The only time we ever really see sunshine and brightness is during the final act when they finally leave the urban jungle and head off into the desert.

The acting is first-class across the board with absolutely perfect casting. Freeman and Pitt work so well together that it’s hard to see any other actors in the roles of Mills and Somerset. For me, I think it is career highlights for the two of them and it almost feels effortless for them. This is helped by a phenomenal script by Andrew Kevin Walker who before Se7en hadn’t written anything particularly of note. Here we have a story and script that had such remarkable depth to the world and characters that you don’t ever question anything.

The juxtaposition between the worlds of Mills and Somerset is truly fascinating and is a masterclass in writing and direction. It is done so cleverly that it never feels forced. Somerset’s world is very much old-school in feel with classic colours and is very organised. On the flip-side, Mills’s is chaotic and unorganized. He lives next to a train track in a place that feels messy and rundown. This is further echoed in how they act to both each other and the other characters in the world. Kevin Spacey also puts in a performance that is so powerful that you forget that his actual screen-time is really rather minimal. He creates a character so vile and sinister that he easily is up there with the best cinematic villains.

With this film, Darius Khondji shows just how truly astonishing a cinematographer he is. Every shot and every scene is beautifully framed and lit. Everything has a purpose and highlights the descent into the final, powerful act. The use of colour throughout the runtime is something rarely seen sued with such perfection. Rarely do we get scenes of warm colour, but when we do they give us a slight respite from the grim, bleak coldness of the rest of the world of the film  It is a near faultless masterclass by a person at the top of his game. Se7en is the perfect example of what can be created when everyone is at the top of their game with no-one performing badly. It could have been so easy for the film to slip into the oversaturated market of crime thrillers but you can’t do much better. There are so many memorable moments that will stay long after the film finishes. To this day if anyone asks me “what’s in the box?” I automatically quote the film. The film also never seems to age. the world it is set in feels almost timeless allowing it to always work.

No matter how many times I watch Se7en I am always noticing new little details which I hadn’t seen before. The movie is a perfect study of madness, fear, hate and pain, all enveloped in a neo-noir world that echoes masterpieces such as Chinatown while creating its own beautifully visceral identity.

Come back next time Hot Shot, as we travel back to 1994. We can’t slow down because we’ll only be at the halfway point of our 90s Movie Challenge so join us as Chris Lupton takes us on an explosive ride to look at Keanu’s bus-bound action-adventure, Speed!

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