Seven (1995)

Seven (1995) movie poster

director David Fincher
viewed: 11/14/2014

To suggest that David Fincher is one of the better big directors currently working in Hollywood would hardly be a radical position.  Currently, his film Gone Girl is performing well at the box office and is probably in line for adulation come awards season.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I am interested.

Seven was not Fincher’s first feature (1992’s Alien 3 was), but because his first feature was such a squandered opportunity, I don’t doubt that Fincher likes to consider Seven his first film.

I didn’t see Seven in the cinema when it came out but on VHS.  Actually, I think I can say the same thing about his other great movie of the 1990’s, Fight Club (1999), for whatever reason.  But my various streaming film queues are dangling a lot of the great movies of the 1990’s and so I’m finding myself drawn back to the flicks of 20 years ago, movies that I saw and liked, but only saw once for whatever reason.

Seven reeks of music video.  Especially mid-1990’s music videos.  Visual aesthetics held that films could play with muted palettes and Seven is set in a “big city” of sleazy blues and greens, washed out colors like old clothes, dingy lighting all as literal of the real world but also highly metaphorical about the dark recesses of human depravity.

Darkness.  Depravity.  The seven deadly sins.

Kevin Spacey plays “John Doe” the eventual serial killer whose ornate murder spree plays out like a piece of creepy performance art.  It’s Morgan Freeman (as the elder detective on the verge of retirement) and Brad Pitt (as the young upstart detective due to take Freeman’s place) who play front row audience to John Doe’s grotesque commentary on humanity, killing each victim according to a convoluted version of their assigned deadly sin.

It’s one of those movie conceits straight out of Screenwriting 101.  Audiences love the stuff, but it’s total fantasy compared to real world killers.

But the film’s kicker is its ending.  Gwyneth Paltrow’s (unseen) head in a box.  Oh yeah, did I assume that everyone has already seen this movie?  Sorry.  No really.

Actually, I think that this otherwise decent movie is pretty much made by the ending.  It’s dark and ruthless, shocking, effective and stays with you.

Frankly, it’s about the only aspect of the movie that I could clearly recall from two decades ago.

I’d say this is formative Fincher.  He’s already got Trent Reznor on the soundtrack.  The very pessimistic world view is firmly in place.  A strong directorial aesthetic and approach is already evident, honed in some of the era’s most slick advertising slots.  And it’s a crime story, which seems to be Fincher’s primary bailiwick.

But it’s not yet great (except for the ending).  It ate at me, the nameless city in which the story takes place (it has to be New York — it’s clearly a stand-in for New York) and yet it’s unnamed.  It rains incessantly in this grimy place.  For most of the week of the film’s narrative.  So it’s whole setting has the vibe of convenient movie-making fantasy, perhaps in tune with its convoluted serial killer/artist.  I know I’m focusing on some seriously “surface” stuff but these are elements that pushed me out of an otherwise pretty involving flick.

You know, it is what it is.  And that’s some pretty good stuff.  The start, if a second start, on what would evolve into one of contemporary American cinema’s consistently better directors.

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