There are few films which can lay claim to scenes which shook the world, or at least the people watching. Alien had the Chestburster, Silence of the Lambs had that first meeting with Hannibal Lecter, Se7en has the box. A simple cardboard box that gives way to an ending which literally rivals the best cinema has to offer.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Se7en follows detectives Mills and Somerset as they try to track down a serial killer whose pattern is that of the seven deadly sins.
David Fincher has been lauded as some sort of a technical genius recently, especially with his incredible work in the Social Network, but at the time of making Se7en, his reputation was somewhat different. After a long line of music videos, Fincher finally made the move in the movie world with the disappointing Alien 3. Basically, it was time to prove himself. All it takes is the opening credits sequence to do so. Set to a Nine Inch Nails remix, the credits themselves set the mood and tone for the rest of the film brilliantly. From then on, Fincher creates a Blade Runner-esque noir feel to a crumbling city which, lacking a physical evildoer, becomes the villain against Mills and Somerset's dual protagonists. Fincher, whilst living in his previous movies' shadow, isn't afraid to make some bold choices in terms of shooting, working with some disorientating handheld shots to great effect and beautifully obscuring his villain until the reveal. He may not have been the virtuoso that he is now but it's an incredible starting point. Despite the urge to occasionally close-in on a gory set-piece, Fincher restrains from gratuity in many cases, preferring to let our minds do the work that the production team doesn't. The fact that we don't actually see any of the killings is tribute to this fact, but what Fincher shows us in the aftermath is more shocking than any amount of violence alone could do. Fincher also makes sure to focus on the relationships of the piece. The ending being the way it is, it wouldn't work if the emotional connection to the viewer hadn't been set up in the first place. Fincher does this with incredible precision without sacrificing his films grimy tone. It truly is a masterful piece of directing which only began to show his potential for films to come.
Andrew Kevin Walker's script is at once sympathetic and diabolical, especially in the way that it knowingly sets the viewer up to be crushed towards the end. The book which the film is based on may be the starting point for this, but Walker's incredible depth of emotion and knack for realistic dialogue means that this is achieved with that much more impact. The dialogue between Mills and Somerset is beautifully written, achieving a realistic relationship between the two without rushing it along. The natural evolution of a working relationship to start with, then to a true friendship is a brilliant achievement by Walker. It would be easy to shoehorn these two characters into something easily recognisable and clichéd for the sake of time, but it's much more rewarding to see it play out the way it does. The two character Walker brings to life are intricately layered and filled with nuance, even while still on the page.
But the two characters would stay there if it wasn't for Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman's incredible portrayal of the two. Pitt plays Mills, the new guy in town, who is enthusiastic to the point of impatience and who doesn't quite know how to act around people. Despite his initial abrasiveness, Pitt imbues him with such a goofy charm that, even when he's busy tripping over his tongue, he is incredibly likeable. The stark contrast between his demeanour at the office and his attitude at home is played with clever subtlety by Pitt creating a more rounded character than that of your typical buddy-cop movie. His interaction with Gwyneth Paltrow is fantastic as well, being careful to play down the obvious love that he holds for her which makes their relationship seem all the more real. Paltrow's performance here is similarly fantastic, a symbol of hope for most of the characters in the film. Her conversation with Somerset is as emotional as it should be without being a drama and her connection with Mills is that of a young, but clearly in love, couple. Morgan Freeman's performance is amazing as always, but here his godlike unshakable attitude pays off better than other times. His subtle shift towards uncertainty and finally terror is an incredible thing to watch as we see his vainly trying to grasp at the last vestiges of control that he has over his circumstances. It's truly an amazing performance but, then again, it's Morgan Freeman. It's difficult to imagine him turning in anything else. Kevin Spacey, though he's only in the film for a short amount of time, makes an indelible impression on the film. His ranting, just short of manic, performance shows off exactly what Spacey has become famous for; his chameleon-like ability to become any role. Though my favourite performance of his has to be Lester Burnham, this would definitely be a close second next to Verbal Kint. His cold, detached stare which occasionally gives way to furious, operatic speeches is an amazing thing to watch. Richard Schiff, a vastly underrated performer, snatches a few minutes of screen time and turns in a brilliantly murky performance. His smug attitude and impenetrable demeanour make him hypnotic to watch. It's sad he doesn't get to be onscreen for longer. John C. Reilly also makes an appearance in the film, miles away from his jovial Dr. Cox and more towards his character in Platoon without all the cowardice. Bit-parts such as the surviving victim of lust also make for incredible performances but it's these central ones which stick in the mind the longest.
Se7en is a testament and origin point for David Fincher's prowess as a filmmaker, a film noir worthy to be mentioned with the likes of Blade Runner and a horror to stand the test of time. Not for the faint hearted.
Despite the sheer shock factor of the Sloth scene, the defining scene has to be that earth-shaking ending.
It's more comfortable for you to label me as insane.
It's very comfortable.
Fuckin' Dante... poetry-writing faggot! Piece of shit, motherfucker!
This guy's methodical, exacting, and worst of all, patient.
He's a nut-bag! Just because the fucker's got a library card doesn't make him Yoda!
C'mon, he's insane. Look. Right now he's probably dancing around in his grandma's panties, yeah, rubbing himself in peanut butter.
This isn't going to have a happy ending.
Maybe you're just sitting around, reading "Guns and Ammo", masturbating in your own feces, do you just stop and go, "Wow! It is amazing how fucking crazy I really am!"?
Innocent? Is that supposed to be funny? An obese man... a disgusting man who could barely stand up; a man who if you saw him on the street, you'd point him out to your friends so that they could join you in mocking him; a man, who if you saw him while you were eating, you wouldn't be able to finish your meal. After him, I picked the lawyer and I know you both must have been secretly thanking me for that one. This is a man who dedicated his life to making money by lying with every breath that he could muster to keeping murderers and rapists on the streets! A woman... so ugly on the inside she couldn't bear to go on living if she couldn't be beautiful on the outside. A drug dealer, a drug dealing pederast, actually! And let's not forget the disease-spreading whore! Only in a world this shitty could you even try to say these were innocent people and keep a straight face. But that's the point. We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it's common, it's trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well, not anymore. I'm setting the example. What I've done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed... forever.