Monday, February 24, 2014

Morgan Freeman Week: Se7en

Morgan Freeman Week Continues...

Directed by David Fincher.
1995. Rated R, 126 minutes.
Morgan Freeman
Daniel Zacapa
Mark Boone Junior
Hawthorne James
Richard Schiff
Reg E. Cathey

Like The Shawshank Redemption, which kicked off Morgan Freeman Week, Se7en is not only considered a classic, it's a revisit for me, as well. My first encounter with this film was during its initial theater run. I remember being fascinated all the way through, thoroughly enjoying myself. Then the finale came. My jaw hit the floor. I took a few moments to assess what I had just seen and immediately crowned it on of the best movies I've ever seen. I have watched well over a thousand movies since. Still, it remains one of my all-time favorites. I'm just glad that first viewing took place during my adult years. Had the teenage me been watching this, my head may have literally exploded as I tried to reconcile it with my Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jason Vorhees world. Piecing it all together might have proven difficult. For those of you who haven't seen it, it's not nearly as complex as I am making it seem. However, it's still light years away from the movies I usually watched, even as I entered the theater to see Se7en, mostly action and slasher flicks with some comedies mixed in.

Unlike a lot of my other faves, I didn't return to this film very often. In fact, I hardly watched it again at all. I've caught bits and pieces of it on TV a few times over the years, but I don't remember sitting down to watch it in its entirety again. Until now. It was finally time to put this movie to the test. The climactic scene was truly an indelible moment in my movie watching life. With full knowledge of the surprise awaiting me, how would it hold up? Quite well, thank you very much.

As far as plots go, Se7en has a fairly simple one. Detective William Somerset (Freeman) is a genius, but weary cop a week away from retirement. In a bucking of Hollywood law, he doesn't die once we receive this information. He does, however, have to give Det. David Mills the lay of the wasteland where they work. Mills is a young hotshot whose just moved to town with his wife Tracy (Paltrow). He worked homicide in a nicer part of the world. Strangely, he begged to be transferred here, to one of the most hellish parts of Chicago. The first case they come upon is one in which the victim appears to have eaten himself to death, upon initial inspection. A little more looking around reveals the man was forced to do this. As more facts are learned, Somerset believes this murder is only the first of what someone plans to be many more. When a second body is found, it becomes apparent the two are related and that our killer is using The Seven Deadly Sins as inspiration.

Even without the mystery it holds for first time viewers, Se7en is still a movie that draws you in. It does this by keeping not just the police a step or two behind the bad guy, but the audience, too. In a lot of films, even those that conceal its villain like this one, we get to see the crimes in progress. We have more knowledge than the hero and we know where they are going wrong. Here, all we get is the grisly aftermath. We arrive upon it with the cops and don't have any more tools than they to put this puzzle together. For someone who has seen it, this automatically makes us scout the crime scene closer than we did that first time around. We desperately look for clues we and/or the detectives may have missed that would lead to the villain more quickly. We are not just watching this film. We are studying it.

The relationship between our two heroes is also a major factor in our continuing enjoyment. At first, the men try to size each other up. It's plain to see they don't really click. Freeman's Somerset takes the far more cerebral approach to everything. It is no surprise he is divorced and still alone. He seems to have trouble dealing with us mental midgets. If there is one scene that perfectly sums up who he is, it's our first trip with him to the library. Before getting there, he hops into the back of a cab. When the driver asks where he is going, he laments "Far away from here." He is a man who despises his surroundings, but understands that this is the place where he is needed. Once arriving, he spots a group of security guards playing poker. Never mind it seems to be an excessive amount of guards for a library. It is more important that other than those guys, he is alone (it is at night), which appears to be how he likes things. It's also important to show just how different he is from other law-enforcement folk. Who goes to a library to research the possible motives of a serial killer? Regardless of his differentness, though, he is well respected. This is evidenced by the guards seemingly trying to impress him by cranking up the classical music to show off their own "culture." Their display is a reaction to the one line that most explicitly shows us Somerset's outlook on things. To them, he says "I'll never understand. All these books, a world of knowledge at your fingertips. What do you do? You play poker all night."

Pitt's David is much more the cop we're used to seeing, nearer the every man for us to identify with. He shares our frustration with both the case and with the things his partner does that appear almost completely dissimilar to police work as he knows it. He is also not afraid to cut corners. Occasionally, it's to keep up with the old man. We see this in his acquiring of the Cliff Notes version of the texts that Somerset painstakingly researched. Other times, it is a way to cover his tracks after making a rash decision. However, what really endears him to us is that he's hilarious. I'd forgotten how funny he is. He isn't doing slapstick and pratfalls. He just makes us laugh by his delivery of some sharp dialogue and his reactions to the situations in which he finds himself. And given the fact he's married, his wife also plays an important role. In one of Gwyneth Paltrow's best performances, she gives us a woman distraught and conflicted by her choice to support her man's career choices and where it has taken them. The matter seems to be destroying her even as she seeks, in her own way, to protect her husband.

As good as its actors are, the real star of Se7en is director David Fincher. He packs every frame with symbolism and/or mystery. The library scene I described earlier is just one of many examples. Another involving Freeman is when he destroys the metronome by his bed. The case he is working is about rules, yet it's creating chaos all around him. This is a man who thrives on order. What's more orderly than a metronome? As far as mystery goes, Fincher reveals our killer at precisely the right time, but we still feel lost. We don't see his endgame. Us repeat watchers don't see a way we could have seen his endgame. Then, there are those amazingly unsettling visuals. Each corpse is a true depiction of someone dying by the sin of which they've been deemed guilty. It's a remarkable feat by a remarkable film maker.

I could go on praising this movie forever. From the time it starts, I am intrigued by it. I am trying to crack its code. More accurately, I'm trying to see where I should have been able to crack it before, and failing. I am also enjoying the fantastic acting taking place across the board. And I haven't even mentioned the person who is causing all the fuss. Because of that person, Freeman's scholarly approach, Pitt's levity, and top notch story telling, to name a few things, we always have a marvelous movie watching experience. Yes, even if we already know what's in the box.


  1. 10 for 10... I love it. Great review here. There really are no amount of words that can do this film justice. It's just that damn good. And KEEPS getting better.

    1. It does indeed keep getting better. It's an amazing piece of work.

  2. My favourite Fincher film!! And that's saying a lot since the guy has made Fight Club and The Social Network!

    1. Fincher is phenomenal. Still, I think this is his magnum opus.