One of the most critically underrated films I can think of takes the form of Se7en, starring the incredible duo of Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Spacey; directed by the one and only Dave Fincher. The film follows a seasoned detective and his rookie partner as they hunt a killer who murders according to the seven original sins. The film, which realistically falls into a number of genres, was released in 1995 to decent but unspectacular critic appreciation, a response I feel deeply undersells the film. It is neither as horrifying as it has been reputed for, nor does its reputation consider the thought-provoking thematic portrayals in the film. Impeccably written, impeccably performed, and impeccably directed as only Dave Fincher might, Se7en is a slow burner of a thriller, if such a thing could ever exist.
Freeman and Pitt, two legendary actors, shine in this film, in among the grittiest performances I’ve seen from either of them. Authentic and rooted, their characters develop psychologically deeper than should be allowed in a two-hour film. Freeman, playing the veteran seen-it-all detective who is thrown into a depth even he has not seen before, is exceptional in the mellowed arc of his character. The same can be said for Pitt, whose jumped up not-so-rookie cements his unique character right from the start, never losing his initial mould but softening as his background is illuminated further in the film. Their character’s relationship is drawn out so well, and they might have been partners forever by the end of it. Gwenyth Paltrow is excellent in the role of Pitt’s wife. Until closer to the end of the movie, it wasn’t actually clear to me what her role in the narrative was. She had this connection with Freeman’s character that had an odd tinge to it; it was never lustful but it was a deeper emotional connection than an average spousal work friend. Without giving away the end, however, her character sells enough for the impact it was intended for, giving a good sense of Pitt’s character’s home life and base, which is essential by the end. Kevin Spacey, whose name is unutterable in polite conversation these days, was nonetheless exceptional in the role of John Doe. Without a demanding physique and with or without gun in hand, Spacey gives off an eerie calmness that ends up being paramount.
I think it is this eerie calmness that opens the door to the film’s wonderful screenplay. The film is rooted in a thoroughly interesting concept, questioning the redundancy of stopping evil. Such a concept demands an interesting script, and I really think it was delivered. It would not have been possible for the script to have been half as effective with a lesser group of actors, but Freeman, Pitt, and Spacey ooze maturity and existentialism; enough to ask questions that illicit genuine pause. In the sense the film is definitely a psychological experience. I don’t recommend it to the queasy, but it doesn’t live up to the hype in terms of it’s gruesomeness (although it is pretty damn gruesome at times), and I do think the gruesomeness that does exist is necessary to raise the stakes, and raise them it does.
Finally, one must mention Dave Fincher. The meticulous man was at it again, with an impeccably shot and edited film. Despite only running 2h6m, the film is segmented and cut such that the experience is prolonged, and I absolutely loved the drawn-outness of the plot. It doesn’t feel rushed at any point, and, while I can see some of the criticism stemming from “dullness”, I disagree simply on the grounds that the film is too intelligent to drag, too interesting to get boring. If I have a criticism, it would have to be of the very last scene, which ends abruptly and was completely unsatisfying for me. An unhappy ending is fine, even welcome if done well, but I felt the end of the film doesn’t give the reverse-catharsis it needed to give to justify itself, hence making the rest of the film a little cheaper.
Nonetheless, Se7en is a tantalising, psychological thriller that raises essential questions of us as a society. If we are ruled by apathy, why should it be to a point? It’s a decent question, and, as one very memorable scene in the film points out: because we shouldn’t be, but until we’re not, a point will have to do. That was one of the things that deepened Pitt’s character the most for me, the fact that, despite his youth and lack of patience, he retained his spirit to fight. The fact that it was ripped from him by the end makes it that much more powerful, but I didn’t find it dejecting, I found it inspiring. Maybe I’m nuts, but I encourage you to find out for yourself.